legislators Ryan Walters to answer questions
House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee Chairman Mark McBride, left, invited State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters to answer questions at a committee hearing Thursday, March 30, 2023. (NonDoc)

(Update: Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters’ executive assistant emailed Rep. Mark McBride’s legislative assistant after the publication of this article, saying that “Walters is unable to attend the meeting” discussed below. The following article remains in its original form.)

To “support the claims that have been described” about public education, Oklahoma Rep. Mark McBride has formally requested that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters appear at Thursday’s scheduled meeting of the House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee.

But two days after sending the request, McBride says he is still awaiting an answer.

“We still have not heard anything,” said McBride (R-Moore), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee.

Regarding his committee’s meeting, McBride emphasized a “friendly” intention behind the request.

“I want this to be a friendly question-and-answer,” McBride said, adding that he’s concerned with “agency operations and challenges facing the agency.”

In his letter sent Monday to Walters, McBride said, “I note with interest statements that you have made regarding problems with the public schools in Oklahoma.”

McBride said he wants to give Walters the opportunity to explain his statements and support them with evidence.

“What’s real and what’s not?” McBride asked.

While the representative did not disclose details of the specific statements that have drawn his interest, he did mention Walters’ recent State Board of Education comments about “pornography” in schools.

“The books — the things that are going on in public schools that he says are going on — we would like to know what those are,” McBride said.

At a State Board of Education meeting last week, Walters displayed sex scenes from books not widely available in schools and called the images an “attack” on families.

“This is an attack not only on your children, it’s an attack on your family, on the values of this country and the values of this state,” Walters said in the meeting. “I don’t care if this was just in one classroom in the state. That is inappropriate for any child in the state of Oklahoma to have in their school libraries. Parents are under attack. Our values are under attack. And we have some elected Republicans attacking me for saying that I will not stand for this material to be in our schools.”

Justin Holcomb, the press secretary for Walters at the State Department of Education, said he would ask Walters about McBride’s invitation, but he did not respond with a comment prior to the publication of this story.

Johns on OSDE liaison: ‘I have no idea who to call’

Another member of the House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee, Rep. Ronny Johns (R-Ada), said he supports McBride’s request that Walters attend Thursday’s meeting at 1:30 p.m.

“It would really be helpful to have conversations because, in the end, I think we all want the same thing, and that is what is best for our public schools moving forward,” Johns said. “And so, I hope Superintendent Walters is successful because if he’s successful, that means he’s been successful moving our schools forward.”

Johns said that in addition to giving Walters the opportunity to support his statements, he also wants to build a stronger relationship with the agency to improve public education.

“Let’s talk about vision,” Johns said. “Forget the campaign rhetoric thing. Let’s talk about vision. How can we work together? Because that’s what we’re supposed to do to better our public schools.”

In particular, Johns said he and other lawmakers are confused about who OSDE’s current legislative liaison is.

“Now I have no clue who to call,” Johns said. “I call the State Department and I’m on hold for eight minutes and have yet to talk to anybody, and I’m supposed to get a call back.”

Johns said his most recent inquiry with OSDE involves a teacher in his district whose teaching certificate may have been mailed to the wrong address. Johns said the teacher has been calling OSDE for a month trying to address the issue.

McBride said he did not want to comment on what it would mean if Walters did not appear at the meeting, but he did say there should be respect shown in interactions between the legislative and executive branches.

“That’s just the courtesy an agency should give to the Legislature,” McBride said.

Another subcommittee member, Rep. Andy Fugate (D-Del City), said he also hopes to see Walters attend Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s part of our legislative responsibility to provide oversight over agency operations in Oklahoma, and things like the P-EBT fiasco that is going on right now call into question fundamental things that should be happening over at the State Department of Education,” Fugate said. “Having the opportunity to visit with the good superintendent about process over there and what the status is of replacing folks would be helpful for the committee.

Walters is already expected to be at the Capitol on Thursday, as he is scheduled to speak on the front steps at a pro-school choice rally hosted by the Parent Empowerment Coalition. Gov. Kevin Stitt is also expected to be there.

The same afternoon, the Senate is also expected to advance the House’s education funding package after approving committee amendments on Monday.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) again butted heads over the amendments.

The package includes a school choice tax credit, which Walters has called “tremendous” legislation.