Scott Farmer, left, moderates a forum for candidates for state superintendent at the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators Legislative Conference at the Embassy Suites Downtown Medical Center in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. Seated (from left) are candidates John Cox, April Grace and Ryan Walters. (Photo provided)

In a room full of public school leaders Wednesday, the three candidates for state superintendent of public instruction took questions about some of the most pressing education issues facing the state.

The forum was part of the legislative conference hosted by the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators. Eager to learn more about the candidates, I attended, too.

All three candidates who have announced so far — John Cox, April Grace and Ryan Walters — are Republican, which I’ve reported on previously. On many topics, the candidates agreed. Where their answers diverged the most was on a question about expanding school vouchers, which could gain a major this legislative session.

Vouchers provide public funds to parents to spend on private school tuition or other educational expenses. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat’s Bill 1647 is getting the most attention.

Here’s what the candidates said about these types of programs:

Walters, who was appointed Secretary of Education in 2020 and is a former history teacher, said the pandemic has exposed the educational system’s strengths and weaknesses. “We need an ‘all of the above’ approach to make sure that every Oklahoma student has an opportunity for success,” he said, adding that he supports all measures that improve student outcomes.

Grace, superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools, said she respects parents’ right to choose their child’s education but questioned where funding will come from if public funding is opened up to 34,000 students attending private schools. “I feel like we have great choices already,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of our parents continue to choose public schools and they want to see them funded well.”

Cox, superintendent of Peggs Public School, said schools are just now seeing the effects of last year’s bill to expand open transfer — which provides parents more choices but takes local control from districts. “The state superintendent should be advocating for money to stay in public schools.”

For a future newsletter, I plan to dig into Treat’s Senate Bill 1647, the Oklahoma Empowerment Act. Parents and students, I want to hear from you. Let me know what you think about this bill via email or DM. Thanks for reading.

  • Current and former students of Mount St. Mary Catholic High School describe a long standing culture of sexual abuse and school administrators’ indifference, victim-blaming and a common refrain that “boys will be boys.” [The Oklahoman]
  • School suspensions have surged as in-person learning returned this year. But some schools are investing in support. [The Hechinger Report]

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