(This story was reported in collaboration with The Frontier. It has been updated.)
Incoming State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters tendered his resignation from the helm of a nonprofit whose donors include advocates for education privatization and charter schools.
Lee Denney, former state representative and board member of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, confirmed in a text message Sunday that Walters had resigned from the nonprofit.
It’s still unclear when Walters’ resignation will take effect and Denney declined to answer follow-up questions. She said an official statement is expected Monday morning.
The group announced Monday that it named its director of operations, Laura Hendrix, as interim executive director on Jan. 5.
Walters is set to be sworn in Monday afternoon. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Following the election, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma’s board voted 3-2 to allow Walters to continue running the organization until a replacement could be found, Denney confirmed. Denney said in a text message that the group planned to name an interim director on Monday.
Every Kid Counts Oklahoma paid Walters at least $120,000 in 2021, according to records obtained by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch. The organization reported Walters’ position as CEO as a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job. A financial disclosure form Walters filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission does not list his salary from the group.
By statute, the state superintendent of public instruction receives a salary of $124,373.
Walters won his race for state superintendent in November by nearly 15 percentage points. He campaigned on a message of helping implement private school vouchers and against critical race theory and what he called “left-wing indoctrination” in Oklahoma public schools.
“We are very appreciative of Ryan Walters’ 3+ years of service to EKCO and its predecessor Oklahoma Achieves and look forward to working with him in his new role as State Superintendent of Public Instruction as we work to fulfill our mission of giving every Oklahoma student a quality education,” Every Kid Counts Oklahoma said in a statement.
Though Every Kid Counts Oklahoma does not reveal its largest donors, a joint investigation by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch last year found that much of the organization’s funds come from national school privatization and charter school expansion advocates, including the Walton Family Foundation, the primary charitable outlet of the heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton, and an education group founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.
The Arkansas Community Foundation, a statewide charitable organization that allows donors to choose groups or projects to donate to, gave more than $1.2 million to Every Kid Counts Oklahoma in 2020 and another $1.2 million in 2021, tax records show. The grants were reported “to support EKCO’s general operations as they quarterback and broaden an education coalition of local and national partners to focus on high-quality education and reform.” Donations to EKCO were among the organization’s largest and among a few based outside of Arkansas.
Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.
Reese Gorman joined The Frontier in 2022 after a stint at The Norman Transcript. Gorman primarily covers state and federal government for The Frontier. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @reesejgorman
Clifton Adcock has been an investigative journalist in Oklahoma for decades, and joined The Frontier in 2017. Since joining The Frontier, Adcock has written extensively about politics, criminal justice, medical marijuana and the environment. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @cliftonhowze