OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – One of the most contentious battles on Election Night was for Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Ryan Walters was the Republican nominee for the role, a position currently held by Joy Hofmeister.

Walters is currently serving as the Oklahoma Secretary of Public Education, a position he was appointed to by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Prior to his appointment, Walters was a high school history teacher at McAlester High School. He was even a finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of Year in 2016.

As the Secretary of Public Education, Walters is responsible for various agencies, boards, and commissions.

In that position, Walters has spoken out against critical race theory being taught in classrooms and has even called for districts to revoke teaching licenses of certain educators related to CRT complaints.

He is also an advocate for school vouchers, which would provide public funds to families who decide to move their children to a private school.

This past summer, Walters found himself at the center of a major controversy.

A federal audit took a closer look at the way COVID-19 pandemic relief funds were spent in Oklahoma. The audit criticized Walters for reportedly allowing the money to go to families who spent the funds on things like televisions, power washers, and air conditioners.

Jena Nelson
Jena Nelson

His Democratic opponent was Jena Nelson.

Nelson is a 6th and 7th grade English teacher at Classen SAS Middle School. She has been an educator for over 16 years and was named the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year award.

She recently was presented the Award for Teaching Excellence from the OEA and was one of 45 national educators to receive the California Casualty and The NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence.

Nelson says over the past three years, she has been asked to write dozens of recommendations for teachers leaving their jobs. She says she wants to increase teacher pay, and reduce the clutter that teachers face to help encourage more professionals to stay in the field.

Nelson is a critic of the school voucher system. She argues that taking public dollars out of public schools will harm kids and majorly impact rural schools.

On Tuesday, voters elected Republican Ryan Walters.

Jena Nelson gave a brief concession speech Tuesday night. Nelson said while she didn’t get the results she was hoping for, she was grateful she and her team came closer than anyone expected. 

She had about 100 supporters at her watch party, but she spent the night with her family. 

She added that the next four years are going to require everyone to come together, and her fight is not over. 

“So, I would encourage everyone who is hearing these words to keep up that fight. Write to your legislators, keep involved with your local school boards, keep making a difference for the 700,000 public school children who need every single one of us, every single day,” said Nelson. “I’ve said it over and over again, it is time to put aside the divisiveness that all of us have seen across our state and decide to work together to build communities to build our state and we don’t do that by teams Democrat or team Republican. We do that by becoming team Oklahoma.”