Drummond, Walters move toward fulfilling campaign pledges
Two of Oklahoma's newest statewide elected officials have signaled their intentions for the start of their terms, and change is in the air.
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Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, three weeks ago, we said the State Department of Education with new superintendent Ryan Walters and the attorney general's office with new AG Gentner Drummond would be top stories to watch at the state Capitol this year. Well, it didn't take long for them to make some news. In his first board meeting as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters gave an overview of his priorities, reiterated his support for private and charter schools, and presented a new budget that is less than the one previously proposed. What are his goals for public education?
Shawn Ashley: Walters told the board, “We will reform all our education systems. There will be accountability and transparency. There will be school choice,” he said. And Walters added, “We will ensure that indoctrination and CRT are eliminated in our state. We will also make sure that our kids are safe. There will be no boys in the girls’ bathrooms. There will be no pornography in schools. We will make sure all our vendors and the schools are focused on education and not on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Dick Pryor: Walters’ tone in his first meeting was not what we ordinarily hear from new state superintendents.
Shawn Ashley: Walters will be the fourth superintendent I've covered, and I don't recall any of the previous ones - Sandy Garrett, Janet Barresi or Joy Hofmeister - beginning their terms with similar statements.
Dick Pryor: It's not unusual for an incoming official to present their own budget. How is Walters’ budget different from the one approved by the state Board of Education last October?
Shawn Ashley: You're right. It's not particularly unusual. When former Superintendent Joy Hofmeister made her first appearance before a legislative committee, she offered a budget proposal that was different than the one originally adopted by the Board of Education. And Attorney General Gentner Drummond has also done that this year in budget meetings with lawmakers. Walters proposal, which was approved Thursday by the State Board of Education, calls for performance based pay increases rather than the across the board pay increases originally approved by the board in October. Walters’ pay plan totals $150 million, nearly $160 million less, and would provide a $2,500 to $10,000 increase to certain teachers based on their teacher and leadership effectiveness ratings and professional learning hours. Walters also proposed a $100 million funding increase targeting student proficiency, particularly reading, that would include tutoring programs for students and training in the science of reading for teachers and administrators. Walters will outline his budget to legislators Wednesday in a joint meeting of the House and Senate Budget Committees on Education.
Dick Pryor: As for the attorney general, Gentner Drummond made it clear he is going to be aggressive in investigating possible corruption and will take an active role in the death penalty process.
Shawn Ashley: Drummond has already announced he is taking over three cases that former attorney (general) John O'Connor had turned over to the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office: The Epic Charter Schools case, the investigation into the possible misuse of funds involving the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Swadley’s Barbecue’s Foggy Bottom restaurants, and an investigation into possible malfeasance at the Commissioners of the Land Office.
Dick Pryor: What is Drummond doing regarding executions?
Shawn Ashley: First, Drummond asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to increase the amount of time between executions. More than 20 were scheduled - almost one every month - between February and the end of 2024. He told the court a monthly schedule of executions was challenging for the Department of Corrections and its staff, and the court granted that request Tuesday and set seven executions with 60 days between them rather than just 30. He also announced Thursday he had appointed former Representative Rex Duncan to serve as an independent counsel to review the Richard Glossip case. Duncan represented House District 35 from 2004 to 2010 and most recently served as the Osage County District Attorney. Glossip is scheduled to be executed in May. The review, Drummond said, would help ensure that justice is served both to the family of the victim, Barry Van Treese, and the accused.
Dick Pryor: The legislative session resumes and the governor presents his State of the State address in just one week. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.