House Democrats held a Wednesday morning press conference to express concerns about what they called a lack of transparency in how the Governor’s office handled millions of federal dollars that was intended to help students during the pandemic.
During the press conference, Representatives Andy Fugate and John Waldron questioned why Governor Kevin Stitt hasn’t fired the Secretary of Education after reports emerged of possible mismanagement of pandemic relief dollars linked to Secretary Ryan Walters.
“As early as the announcement of Walters’ appointment as Secretary of Education, the governor was touting Ryan Walters involvement in the ‘Bridge The Gap’ digital scheme,” state Rep. Andy Fugate, (D-OKC) said.
This comes after an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier showed $8 million in federal pandemic relief dollars was distributed to families with no oversight.
Secretary of Education Ryan Walters headed up an effort to connect Oklahoma with tech platform ClassWallet to distribute the funds through the Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program, hoping the setup could work for a future school voucher initiative.
The U.S. Department of Education opened up an investigation into the program.
Lawmakers said they are concerned with the governor’s lack of response to the investigation.
“All he has done so far to address this issue is to send strongly-worded letters and veiled threats, seeking to get blood out of a turnip,” Rep. Fugate said.
"The governor has no intention of asking for Secretary Walters’ resignation. Secretary Walters is doing a great job fighting for parents’ right to be in charge of their child’s education and advocating for funding students, not government-controlled systems,” Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office said in a statement.
The governor’s office also said that their December 27, 2021 letter to ClassWallet notified the group that the state intends to recover funds distributed by ClassWallet for unintended and potentially fraudulent purposes.
A second letter was sent last month, notifying ClassWallet that the state believes it failed to fulfill its contractual and legal obligations to the state.
“If ClassWallet refuses to take appropriate action, we will have no option but to file suit in Oklahoma County District Court,” the statement said.