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Capitol Insider: Governor Requests Investigative Audit Of State Department Of Education

The cluster of 14 Oklahoma flags at the state Capitol.
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Almost one year after an audit showed financial concerns involving Epic Charter Schools, Governor Kevin Stitt has requested a much larger investigative audit of the State Department of Education

Transcript:

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. Governor Kevin Stitt has requested an audit of the State Department of Education just over a year after the state auditor and inspector conducted an audit critical of financial practices followed by Epic Charter Schools. Shawn, this is an extraordinary move. State Auditor Cindy Bird says it may be the first audit of its kind in the United States. What is the issue that this audit will seek to resolve?

Shawn Ashley: Well, according to State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Bird, whose office will be conducting the audit, it's going to look at two things. First, all revenue sources flowing into the State Department of Education, which is in excess of nine billion dollars - that includes federal funds, state appropriations, taxes and other fees that they receive directly - and determine if those revenues are properly allocated and whether expenditures from those funds were made in accordance with applicable laws. Second, it will look at whether the State Department of Education and Oklahoma school districts are complying with the Oklahoma cost accounting system financial transaction reporting requirements, and that the department is effectively requiring consistent application and timely accountability.

Dick Pryor: This could be a very complex and time-consuming audit. Why not just narrow the scope of the audit to OCAS?

Shawn Ashley: Well, I think OCAS will play a big role in the audit. The system was referenced more than 90 times in the Epic Charter Schools audit and State Department of Education staff have said in multiple meetings, both with the State Board of Education and with members of the legislature, that they only have limited authority over what school administrators report in the system. The Epic audit put it this way: the actual underlying support of revenues and expenditures is typically not verified by SDE, nor its actual compliance with documented policies and procedures confirmed and that really gets to the point of an investigative audit. As State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Bird told eCapitol in July of 2019, an investigative audit is about more than just the numbers. It also looks at the laws involved and asks if the law was not followed or whether that was because someone chose not to do so or because of some flaw in the law.

Dick Pryor: Governor Stitt says he is doing this to fulfill his promise to clean up state government. Now, inherent in that statement is that state government needs to be cleaned up. Why the State Department of Education and why now?

Shawn Ashley: Well, as we've noted, some of these problems were identified in the Epic Charter Schools audit that was released almost one year ago. And at that time, 22 lawmakers called on the governor to request an investigative audit of the Department of Education. One of those lawmakers, Representative Chad Caldwell, Republican from Enid and a former chair of the House Common Education Committee, praised Stitt for following through on that promise to clean up state government.

Dick Pryor: State Superintendent John Hofmeister sees this audit as an attack on the public education system in Oklahoma.

Shawn Ashley: That's right, Superintendent Hofmeister noted the State Department of Education has undergone more than 20 financial compliance and programmatic review audits by the state auditor's office in the last six and a half years. She also pointed out that Governor Stitt’s secretary of education, Ryan Walters, approves every agency expenditure over $25,000 on a weekly basis under the terms of an executive order.

Dick Pryor: The state director of Career Tech, Marci Mack, submitted her resignation to the Career Tech board, but the board members did not accept it. What's going on there, Shawn?

Shawn Ashley: Yes, this is rather unusual. Mack indicated in her resignation letter that it was time for her to find new opportunities that take her closer to home. But the board voted unanimously and expressed support for her to continue in the job. And Director Mack indicated that she would continue in the role and was looking forward to working with the system's various stakeholders to continue the agency's work.

Dick Pryor: More reporting to come on that, I suppose.

Shawn Ashley: Most definitely.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. We'd like to hear from you. E-mail your questions to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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