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Oklahoma Superintendent Walters pushes Tulsa Schools on test scores, as fears of accreditation loss mount

Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters speaks to reporters on Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, at the Tulsa County Republican Headquarters.
Max Bryan
Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters speaks to reporters on Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, at the Tulsa County Republican Headquarters.

He hasn’t said what he plans to do with Tulsa Public Schools’ accreditation yet, but State Superintendent Ryan Walters says the district’s reading scores need to drastically improve for him to be satisfied.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Walters claimed the district trails the state in reading proficiency by roughly 8%. He then gave the district a significant demand.

“Tulsa Public Schools, by the end of this academic year, should at least be at the state average for reading performance. They should at least be at the average,” Walters said.

Walters didn’t directly answer when asked if the state would discipline the district if it made significant progress in reading scores but didn’t meet the state average.

The news conference held at Tulsa County Republican Party Headquarters came as Walters has floated the idea of removing TPS’ accreditation due to what he claimed is significant financial mismanagement. TPS officials say they’ve been transparent about a high-profile embezzlement case he’s referenced in recent weeks.

Walters deflected when asked if the Tulsa area is ready to take on additional students if the district loses accreditation.

“Folks, I’ve told you, you know, all options are on the table," he said. "The board and myself, when we’re looking at this, we want every single child to have a great education.”

At a packed school board meeting later, accreditation was much discussed. Superintendent Deborah Gist said she didn't watch Walters' press conference but refuted some of his claims, including that $1 million was taken in the embezzlement case. Gist said Walters has no way of knowing how much money is missing.

"We do not know, and neither does the state superintendent, unless he has been collaborating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who has told us it is highly inappropriate to be discussing this because there is an active investigation going on," Gist said. "However, having said that, when I look at what we've been concerned about, none of that adds up to what was shared today."

Board member John Croisant pushed back on the idea that TPS is failing. He said all goals from a strategic plan were met. The goals were set after a year of collaboration with the public.

TPS officials also said it's not true, as Walters claimed, that 53% of TPS' budget is spent on administration. State regulations limit administrative costs to 5%. TPS has reported 4.03%.

Board member Jennettie Marshall urged those making accreditation decisions to talk with the board. She referenced the Houston Independent School District, which was taken over by the state of Texas.

“It is 11:59 p.m. on the clock of destiny for TPS,” Marshall said. “We are under attack. If you’re not keeping up with Houston, if we continue the course we’re on, that’s where we’re headed.”

Walters and the state school board will vote on TPS’ accreditation Aug. 24.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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