OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Accusations are flying between Oklahoma’s state superintendent and the secretary of education. Both sides are pointing fingers, saying the other person is putting politics over kids.
The fight is over a $12 million program that helps thousands of low-income children. Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister and the Oklahoma Department of Education need Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters’ approval, but the secretary wants more details on the funding first.
“It’s very important; we’re talking about low-income children who are being served in communities across the state,” said State Department of Education attorney Brad Clark. “It’s very vital to not only those communities, but these children who are at risk.”
Hofmeister released a press release on Thursday saying she was appalled at Walters, accusing him of refusing to approve a $12 million contract for the Oklahoma Early Childhood Program.
“Secretary Walters’ refusal to approve this expenditure, which is required by law, received an appropriated line item and has been in state statute since 2006, is worse than irresponsible,” she said in the release. “His gamesmanship bullies infants and children, but it is not surprising. This is a pattern of Gov. Stitt’s administration when they don’t get their way or need to distract from their own financial scandals.”
Walters told KFOR he wants to see exactly where the money will be going.
“I’m fine to move forward with this, but to ensure accountability, I want to see the reports as they come in,” he said. “Her team has been unresponsive, and they decided to put out a politically-driven press release rather than just respond to a simple call for transparency over her spending.”
Clark provided KFOR an email exchange where they answered Walters’ many questions about the program’s spending. The exchange went back to June.
“Those [questions] were a little bit out of left field because,” Clark explained. “This has been in place since 2006 and last year, the secretary’s first year in that position, he gave his written okay on this program, same program that happened last year.”
But Walters defended his position, saying he’s simply doing his due diligence.
“So, they gave me over two dozen expenditures in a less than a 24-hour period,” he said. “The State Department put me in a position, instead of doing their due diligence and giving me budget expenditures earlier, they tried to give me dozens within a small timeframe and tell me to just give them blanket approval. The reason why there’s this check in place is so that I can ask questions. I can assure taxpayers and the legislature that when there’s budget money appropriated that I can help be eyes and help provide answers and extra accountability to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately.”
Walters said he has approved some of the items of the funding, but not all.
The State Department of Education told KFOR on Friday that they will be providing the requested reports to Walters, emphasizing that they have been cooperative since the process started in mid-June.