GOP state superintendent debate
John Cox, April Grace and Ryan Walters are the three leading candidates seeking the Republican nomination for state superintendent of public instruction in 2022. (NonDoc)

(Update: A recap and video from this debate can be found here.)

Turn your mouth off and put your listening ears on for NonDoc’s primary debate among the Republican candidates seeking to be Oklahoma’s next state superintendent of public instruction.

The four GOP candidates — Peggs Public Schools Superintendent John Cox, 2006 state superintendent candidate William Crozier, Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent April Grace and State Secretary of Education Ryan Walters — have agreed to face off at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 22, at the Renaissance Waterford Hotel ballroom, 6300 Waterford Blvd. in Oklahoma City.

Current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister will not be seeking reelection owing to term limits, but she is making a gubernatorial run after switching her party affiliation to Democrat.

The debate — titled Roll Call — is being held in partnership with News 9, and Tres Savage of NonDoc and Storme Jones of News 9 will serve as moderators. The debate will be live-streamed on News 9’s website and Facebook page, as well as NonDoc’s Facebook page. The Frontier is also a media partner for this debate, with a focus on fact checking.

The June 22 debate between the state superintendent candidates is free and open to the public.

NonDoc’s 2022 public debate series is supported by financial sponsors like the State Chamber of Oklahoma, AARP Oklahoma, McSpadden, Milner & Robinson and the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. The state superintendent debate will occur on the first night of OPSRC’s inaugural Oklahoma School Innovation Summit, but the organization’s involvement in the debate is limited to event space rental and financial sponsorship of NonDoc’s broader public debate series.

All questions posed to candidates will be written and asked by professional journalists in the same manner as NonDoc’s 2018 GOP runoff debate for state superintendent between Hofmeister and Linda Murphy.

To be reminded of the June 22 debate livestream, you can RSVP to this Facebook event page.

If no Republican candidate receives more than 50 percent of the June 28 primary vote, a runoff election will occur Aug. 23. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Jena Nelson, a Deer Creek Middle School educator who was named Oklahoma’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

Background on the GOP candidates

John Cox has 35 years of experience in Oklahoma’s public schools and has served the last 23 years as the superintendent of Peggs Public Schools in Cherokee County. He serves as president of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools, chairman of the Oklahoma Schools Assurance Group and treasurer of the Oklahoma Schools Insurance Group. Cox has also served as president of the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators.

This year marks his third time running for the state superintendent position. In 2016, he was the Democratic nominee against Hofmeister and received 44.2 percent of the vote. In 2018, he ran against Hofmeister as a Democrat again, receiving only 33.9 percent of the vote.

William Crozier is a retired veteran who has run for state office twice in the past. He ran for the state superintendent position in 2006 — with a campaign committee titled Crozier for Superman — as well as lieutenant governor in 2010, receiving only about 5.19 percent of the Republican primary vote.

During his 2006 state superintendent run, he was the only Republican to file, and he proposed making schools safer by creating bullet-proof textbooks.

April Grace has served as the superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools since 2016 and has spent 30 years in public education in various positions, including teacher, building administrator and assistant superintendent.

She was named 2021 State Superintendent of the Year by the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators, as well as OASA District 9 Superintendent of the Year.

Grace and other Shawnee Public Schools officials have been criticized after former assistant athletic director and basketball coach Ron Arthur was accused of and subsequently charged with soliciting sexual contact with a minor by use of technology, forcible sodomy and first-degree rape. An investigation revealed that Arthur had remained employed by Shawnee Public Schools despite receiving several admonishments for other alleged verbal and sexual misconduct between 2007 and 2018.

Ryan Walters was appointed cabinet secretary of education by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2020. The year prior, he had been named executive director of the education advocacy group Oklahoma Achieves, which was absorbed by Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, where Walters continues to work as executive director.

Walters previously taught advanced placement history at McAlester High School and Millwood High School in Oklahoma City and was an Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalist in 2016.

It was recently reported that Walters earns at least $120,000 a year in his position with Every Kid Counts, with much of the funds coming from national privatization and charter school expansion advocates, and about $40,000 a year by the state.

Walters has also made headlines in recent months for a series of cell phone videos of himself in his car criticizing “woke” educators and other elements of public schools. He and Stitt have come under fire after a report from The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch revealed concerns about how $8 million in federal Governor’s Emergency Relief Funds for pandemic learning were distributed to Oklahoma families.

Debates scheduled for other races

As part of NonDoc’s broader 2022 public debate series, the following primary election debates have been scheduled: