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Kevin Stitt, the Oklahoma governor who steadfastly refuses to issue statewide health mandates to reduce the spread of Covid, has made another move that reeks of political theatre. Governor Stitt, who had no previous legislative experience before his election, recently appointed his friend and fellow businessman Trent Smith to the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
Governor Stitt touts Smith’s qualifications for such a role as being a businessman, father, and Oklahoma resident. Prior to his appointment, Smith was best known as a four-year starter on the University of Oklahoma football team, where he served as team captain and led the Sooners to a national championship.
Smith notes several of his family members are educators, and his children attend public schools, unlike Governor Stitt, who supports private schools and parochial education. Smith is the former CEO of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, a non-profit organization whose mission promotes children’s educational opportunities in Oklahoma. However, the website does not list any planned activities, partner organizations, or specific methods for attaining these goals.
Governor Stitt has broad legislative powers to install loyalists to his cabinet. By Oklahoma law, the governor appoints all six seats on the state Board of Education, non-elected positions. Governor Stitt recently removed Kurt Bollenbach from the board after Mr. Bollenbach supported mask mandates in public schools and pushed for Epic charter program accountability.
Tellingly, this is not the first position into which Governor Stitt has promoted Smith. In March 2019, Smith became an Oklahoma Employment Security Commission leader on Governor Stitt’s approval. Both Stitt and Smith are members of the same private club for business leaders in Oklahoma, the Young Presidents Organization. Three other members of Stitt’s cabinet were selected from among YPO’s membership as well.
Before tapping Smith, Governor Stitt’s choice for the position was Melissa Crabtree, a homeschool mom who voted against mask mandates in public schools. Governor Stitt eventually rescinded the offer after educators and public officials from all political sides expressed outrage at Ms. Crabtree’s lack of qualifications for the role.
Oklahoma educators, who are among the lowest-paid and hardest-working educational professionals in the country, are tentatively optimistic about the new change. Oklahoma currently ranks #47 in annual education quality, an auspicious honor that belies a need for radical change on behalf of Oklahoma’s children.
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