This story was produced in partnership with the Oklahoma nonprofit newsroom The Frontier.

House Democrats on Wednesday called on the governor to ask for Secretary of Education Ryan Walters’ resignation after an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found misspent federal relief funds intended to help students during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The $8-million Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program used federal coronavirus relief funds to distribute $1,500-grants to families. The grants were supposed to be used to purchase school supplies and laptops, but hundreds bought TVs, gaming consoles, home appliances and other items, Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found. 

“We’re not here today to ask for Ryan Walters’ resignation. We’re here today to ask why the governor has not,” Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City, said at a press conference Wednesday. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt named Walters as Secretary of Education in September 2020. Walters is also executive director of the nonprofit Every Kid Counts Oklahoma and is running for state superintendent. 

Another Stitt appointee, Jerry Winchester, resigned as executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation in April after allegations of inappropriate spending on a contract with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants at state parks. 

Fugate said corruption and a lack of transparency has been a recurring theme with Stitt’s administration. “This week, it’s the governor’s school voucher pilot program. Before that, it was Swadley’s. Unaccountable and misspent CARES funding. The laundry list is long,” he said. 

Reps. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman; Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater; and John Waldron, D-Tulsa also attended the press conference.

Stitt has no plans to ask for Walters’ resignation, Carly Atchison, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said in an email. 

“Secretary Walters is doing a great job fighting for parents’ right to be in charge of their child’s education and advocating for funding students, not government-controlled systems,” she wrote. 

Walters could not be reached for comment. 

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.

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