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Oklahoma lawmakers subpoena State Superintendent Ryan Walters after repeated information requests went ignored

Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma House Members issued a subpoena to State Superintendent Ryan Walters Tuesday after several requests for information and documents went ignored.

The subpoena comes from Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore), who chairs the Education Appropriations and Budget Committee; Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon), who chairs the Common Education Committee; and Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka).

They’re demanding answers to seven questions:

  1. For the Teacher Sign-On Bonus program, what was the recruitment process and how many teachers have applied since an interview with Walters by Fox 25 anchor Wendy Suares? The subpoena alleges in the interview, Walters said 950 teachers from out of state applied to the program. In that interview, Walters said, “We’ve launched the largest teacher recruitment program in the country, having over 950 teachers apply to come to Oklahoma to teach.”
  2. It also asks, for the Teacher Sign-On Bonus program’s out-of-state teachers, what states are they coming from? How many years were they certified in their state? How many years on average had they taught before coming to Oklahoma? What Oklahoma school districts were they hired by? What subjects are they teaching?
  3. Provide details of the school districts that fall in the category of having 95% of their students not performing at grade level.
  4. What specifically is Walters doing to help those districts mentioned above to bring them up to grade-level performance?
  5. Provide an update on the Metrics Software program — a $2 million expenditure authorized during the last legislative session to manage the department’s data and analytics.
  6. Did Walters authorize his senior advisor, Matt Langston, to use Walters’ office letterhead and state resources in Langston’s communications with McBride? As a refresher, Langston answered McBride’s initial requests for information with a note slipped under his office door saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
  7. Does Walters have any policy in place to either allow or prohibit the type of communication that transpired between Langston and McBride?

The lawmakers are also demanding several documents:

  1. A copy of the applicants from the 950 teachers identified in the Fox 25 interview mentioned above.
  2. All emails from Sept. 10, 2020, to present day, sent to Walters’ Every Kid Counts Oklahoma email address that relate to the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. Every Kid Counts is the nonprofit organization Walters was the executive director of until February. According to an investigation from nonprofit newsrooms Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier, Walters’ time at the organization is under scrutiny in an ongoing FBI investigation for allegedly misspending nearly $2 million in pandemic-era federal education funding.
  3. All correspondence between Walters’ office and McBride or Baker regarding document requests.
  4. Any and all communications between Walters and Langston regarding responses to McBride and Baker’s document requests.

Walters has until Jan. 5, 2024 at 3 p.m. to bring the requested information to McBride’s office.

Langston responded Tuesday to the subpoena, accusing McBride of lying repeatedly and making up “false narratives” about Walters and his department.

“All Oklahomans should question [McBride’s] political and ideological stances,” Langston said in a statement. “Representative McBride actively works with Democrats and teachers’ unions to undermine Superintendent Walters’ and Oklahomans’ conservative policies.”

On the other side of the aisle, House Democratic Leader Rep. Cyndi Munson (D-Oklahoma City) issued a statement Wednesday in response to the subpoena, saying it was a “step in the right direction.” She reiterated repeated calls from her caucus to open a bipartisan investigation on whether Walters’ actions rise to the level of impeachment.

Munson also voiced concern about whether Democrats would be given access to the information from the subpoena once it was received, saying both parties were entitled to “true transparency and accountability.”

She also brought up a recent superintendent survey that revealed dozens of Oklahoma school districts were experiencing a delay in receiving federal funding.

“We continue to have questions about the recent report about the 100 school districts that have not received federal funding approval from the Oklahoma State Department of Education — funding that is vital to many programs and jobs at school districts across our state,” Munson wrote. “We remain committed to protecting our public schools and our public tax dollars and will use the legislative process to do just that.”

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Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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