At a forum last weekend in Sulphur, the Republican candidates for state superintendent were asked about our recent investigation into the state’s $8 million Digital Wallet program, which distributed federal pandemic relief dollars to families to buy educational supplies. In collaboration with The Frontier, we uncovered how the Stitt administration’s lack of guardrails allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable purchases, such as home appliances and TVs.

It was the first time, to my knowledge, that Secretary of Education Ryan Walters has answered questions publicly about our findings. He has declined multiple interview attempts by myself and reporters at The Frontier and other news outlets.

Walters set up the introduction between the Florida company that received a no-bid contract with the state for the program, ClassWallet.

And the day the program launched and families were asking ClassWallet if they were allowed to buy anything on the approved vendor websites, like Office Depot and Staples, it was Walters who responded by giving “blanket approval with vendors on your platform.”

The two-hour forum was moderated by News 9’s Augusta McDonnell and the video as well as a transcript are posted on their website. The question about our investigation starts around 1 hour 40 minutes.

Here’s a recap of the candidates’ answers to that question.

April Grace: “We had an opportunity for misuse of the funds and not enough guardrails in place to ensure the system works as it should. Arizona had something similar. What Oklahoma taxpayers want is accountability and oversight of the public funds that are distributed, whether those are federal funds or not.”

John Cox: “The emotion I had, I don’t know if it was disgust, or if it was just mad, or irritated, but that was your taxpayer money. We bought people across Oklahoma gifts with our money. As a school superintendent, we are down to the penny where our federal money goes.”

William Crozier: “We need to be frugal with our money.”

Ryan Walters: “When I was appointed secretary of education in September 2020, one of the first things I did was start looking over government contracts to ensure accountability and transparency of taxpayer dollars. That’s incredibly important to me. The governor and myself are holding that vendor accountable.”

We have a copy of the contract, and have reviewed it multiple times. The description of work doesn’t including anything about restricting or even reviewing purchases, only that ClassWallet was required to make reports with detailed summaries of purchases and amounts available to the state.

You can catch the full answers from these four candidates on the video.

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Recommended Reading

  • The pandemic and culture wars are crushing teachers. After the deadliest school shooting in a decade, teachers are asking themselves how much more they can take. [The New York Times]
  • An internal auditor at the state land office challenged her firing earlier this year, less than a week after she started looking into a conflict of interest by her boss. [Tulsa World]
  • Corporal punishment has been stamped out by most schools across the country, but some still use it routinely and pressure parents to choose it instead of suspension. [The Hechinger Report]

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