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TULSA, Okla. – Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Kevin Stitt is calling for a special audit of his state’s second-largest school district – Tulsa Public Schools (TPS).
“Today, I am calling for a special audit of Tulsa Public Schools and the potential mishandling of public funds. I’m also concerned TPS may have violated state law by teaching critical race theory.
“We will get to the bottom of what’s going on at Tulsa Public Schools,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said via a video that was posted on his Twitter page.
Today I am calling for a special audit of Tulsa Public Schools and the potential mishandling of public funds. I'm also concerned TPS may have violated state law by teaching critical race theory.
We will get to the bottom of what’s going on at Tulsa Public Schools. pic.twitter.com/0nhMhfRXh2
— Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) July 7, 2022
Last week in full transparency, Tulsa Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist alerted all Tulsa School Board members and a number of media outlets that an employee had misused private funds, not public taxpayer dollars. Gist informed Board members and the press that personnel action was immediately taken. The Superintendent also immediately notified the Tulsa County District Attorney when the issue was discovered.
In a statement to The Black Wall Street Times, TPS Communications Director Emma Garrett Nelson also refuted the Governor’s claims that “public funds” were misused.
“Based on our internal investigation, the funds involved were from a single philanthropic donor and did not involve taxpayer dollars,” Garrett-Nelson wrote.
“While I cannot share confidential personnel information,” Garrett Nelson continued, “I can share that in addition to taking swift and appropriate personnel action, we sought the guidance of the District Attorney.”
Gov. Stitt ramps up attacks against public education
In the video, Stitt peppered his speech with political talking points. The governor stated that TPS stayed closed longer than other school districts in the state during COVID.
“TPS received over 200 million dollars in COVID Federal Relief funds. TPS also stayed closed the longest – over 300 consecutive days,” he said.
A National Parents Union poll found a sharp partisan divide between parents who identify as Republican vs. parents who identify as Democrat on in-person vs. remote learning priorities. 62% of Republican parents prioritize trying to get public school students back into the classroom this school year and implementing health and safety measures, compared to 43% of Democratic parents.
Stitt also made accusations of staff teaching Critical Race Theory.
“I’m also concerned that TPS may have violated state law, specifically, HB 1775, which bans public schools from teaching critical race theory.”
Yet, according to Tulsa Public Schools Media Relations Manager Lauren Partain, CRT hasn’t been an issue of concern among parents in the district.
“We have had no official parent complaints this school year,” Pertain told The Black Wall Street Times via email on Thursday.
Stitt administration mired in scandals, investigations
The announcement comes as Stitt’s own Department of Tourism is under audit for misuse of public funds. The department reportedly awarded the company “Swadley’s” $13 million to renovate kitchens in state parks. That $13 million in taxpayer dollars included annual payments of $1-2 million to cover the company’s operating losses. It’s noteworthy that Governor Stitt didn’t call for this audit, even though he department was under his supervision and millions of taxpayer dollars were seemingly misused.
Similarly, when Stitt announced an audit for EPIC charter schools, the Governor didn’t post a video on Twitter. Rather, he did so in a written statement. At the time he announced the audit, twenty-two lawmakers and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister were urging him to act. That audit also involved the misuse of millions of dollars in funds as well as the defrauding of Oklahomans.
Stitt’s announcement of the TPS audit comes just weeks after the Tulsa School Board forcefully pushed back on attacks from Ryan Walters. Walters, a personal friend of Stitt, was appointed by the Governor to Education Secretary last year. Walters has since launched a campaign for State Superintendent.
By law, State Auditor Cindy Byrd will now move the audit forward per the Governor’s request. It is unclear how many taxpayer dollars the audit will cost the people of Tulsa and Oklahoma more broadly.