Experience matters, says Republican state superintendent of public instruction candidate April Grace. Take Oklahoma’s adventure with federal COVID relief money for education, she said.
Speaking Monday evening at the Tulsa Press Club, Grace was asked to analyze the imbroglio in which the federal government is asking for COVID-related education funds back from the state and the state is suing its private vendor.
“No. 1, you don’t give a no-bid contract,” said Grace, whose Aug. 23 runoff opponent, Ryan Walters, was largely responsible for the program.
“Secondly, it’s making sure you understand federal regulations and what’s required and what’s allowed for those dollars,” she said.
“The federal audit (from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General) seemed pretty specific that the appropriate steps were not taken.”
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Grace has been superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools since 2016, was the Oklahoma Superintendent of the Year in 2021 and has been an educator for 33 years.
She says that’s what sets her apart from Walters, a 37-year-old former teacher with no administration experience but who has been state secretary of education the past two years.
It is “dangerous for the future … of our state,” she said, to put someone in the state superintendent’s position who does not “have that understanding of how schools operate and what actually needs to happen to move schools forward.”
“Quite honestly, I don’t think my opponent has that. I just don’t. He’s never led anything. He’s never managed anything, and he doesn’t have any actual solutions or plans about Oklahoma education.”
Grace resisted being drawn into the dispute involving Tulsa and Mustang public schools and and the State Board of Education over an alleged violation of the state’s “no controversial subjects” rule that resulted in a downgrade of TPS’ accreditation. She doesn’t, she said, have enough information.
Tulsa Public Schools was accredited with a warning for the next year at a recent state school board meeting based on an assertion that an August 2021 professional development session on implicit bias was not in compliance with House Bill 1775.
The law prohibits teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to another. It also prohibits causing a student to feel guilty or uncomfortable because of their race or gender, as well as teaching that anyone is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
Under the law, a violation of HB 1775 is considered a deficiency with respect to accreditation, not cause for a “warning.”
After some prodding, Grace said what took place “was not the normal process. The normal process would be deficiency, opportunity to correct, etc. There’s a process.”
Grace and Walters disagree on some policy matters, most notably using tax money for private schools. Grace said public schools are already underfunded, while Walters is a vocal proponent of the state’s subsidizing private school tuition and home schooling.
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