OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters presented his budget to lawmakers and took questions regarding the ClassWallet scandal.

Tuesday afternoon, Gentner Drummond, Oklahoma State Attorney General, announced his office dropped the lawsuit against ClassWallet.

ClassWallet is a Florida-based company that worked with the state of Oklahoma in 2020 to disperse COVID relief funds designed for kids and their education.

A federal audit found that $650,000 was misspent by parents using ClassWallet on items like TVs, Xboxes, and Christmas trees. Now, the US Department of Education wants the money back.

Drummond said that the company was not responsible for the problems, instead saying it was the fault of “a number of state actors and other individuals.”

Ryan Walters was the lead on the state’s contract with ClassWallet and the program called Bridge the Gap.

At the beginning of the hearing with lawmakers Wednesday, which aimed at presenting the budget proposal for the Department of Education, Representative Mark McBride asked if the budget set aside $650,000 to pay back the federal government.

“We’re working with the governor’s office to find out what those next steps are,” responded Walters.

Later, he was asked by reporters to respond to the AG’s announcement.

“We’re reviewing the attorney general statement,” said the state superintendent. “I’ve got my team, we’re looking over kind of what the statements he said.”

When it came to the numbers, many asked about Walters’ plan for teacher pay raises.

Last Thursday, he presented the budget to the state board of education. He proposed a merit-based system that would give raises ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. It’s based on Teacher-Leader Effectiveness ratings and professional learning hours completed.

  • Highly Effective + 15 hours completed: $2,500
  • Highly Effective + 25 hours completed: $5,000
  • Superior + 15 hours completed: $7,500
  • Superior + 25 hours completed: $10,000

In front of lawmakers today, he said that the money would be based on teacher rankings made by each district, and they would be awarded every year. If a teacher dropped in rank from one year to the next then their “bonus” would drop too.

“State law says that once a teacher receives a specific salary, that a district is not allowed to pay them less than that salary,” said Democrat Andy Fugate, Representative from OKC, who took issue with calling it a “teacher raise.”

“If the secretary — the superintendent — is saying that a teacher who gets a lower score at some point in the future could have a lower salary, it’s not a salary, it’s a stipend,” argued Fugate.

Senator Adam Pugh, who chairs the education committees for his chamber, said he wants to see the minimum teacher salary raised to $40,000 per year.

“I’m proud to say I want I want across the board teacher pay raise,” said Pugh.

He added that it is not enough to focus on teachers that are succeeding, but to also help educators that are underdeveloped.  

 “That’s as equally important to me,” said Pugh “Those who may be struggling or underperforming or they need some additional mentorship or professional development, we have to put some resources into that as well.”

Questions were also raised about federal funding in Oklahoma’s education.

During the campaign, Walters made remarks to parents indicating his desire to remove federal funding in public schools.

“When you were campaigning, you talked about doing away with federal dollars just quite frankly, that scares me,” said Brenda Stanley, Republican senator from Midwest City, to the state superintendent.

Walters denied using that language.

“What I’ve said from the beginning is I want an analysis of every single dollar spent in the state of Oklahoma,” said Walters.

Democrat representative John Waldron asked a similar question about federal funding, and wanted to know if the campaign rhetoric will end.

“I will never stop fighting radical indoctrination in the classroom,” responded Walters, referring to his belief that federal dollars are tied to Critical Race Theory. “We’re going to put the focus on getting the federal government out of dictates and giving more power to parents through school choice.”

The hearing between Walters and lawmakers lasted around two hours.

For Senators and Representatives, this was the first time hearing directly from the state superintendent about his ideas.

However, it is the legislature that will ultimately decide what goes into the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s budget, a process that plays out for months during session.

The first day back at the Capitol is February 6.