It is an itch they can’t resist. Republicans see governmental money and conspire to put it into private bank accounts. Their economic policies cater to the richest among us – well, not among you and me, bunky, since that would mean they were slumming with the riff-raff.
Currently, state Republican leaders are eyeing state public education money, trying to divert more of it to private schools through vouchers, including to indoctrinating church schools.
So, how is private education working in Oklahoma?
In June, Jennifer Palmer of Oklahoma Watch reported:
“Epic Charter Schools’ founders, who were arrested (June 23), shifted millions of school dollars to company credit cards, which were used to make political campaign donations, fund a lobbyist and pay personal expenses like vacations, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation alleges in court documents.
“Following a yearslong investigation into alleged embezzlement of taxpayer funds, the co-founders of the state’s largest online school were arrested Thursday, along with the longtime chief financial officer.”
They were charged with “racketeering, embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretense, conspiracy to commit a felony, violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act, submitting false documents to the state and unlawful proceeds.”
On June 23, Palmer reported, “The scheme has cost the state more than $22 million, according to the OSBI.”
On June 24, KFOR-TV, the only Cap City station covering politics consistently (thank you), upped the ante, so to speak, reporting:
“Cindy Byrd, State Auditor and Inspector, said in a press conference Thursday that $142 million was taken under the guise of the learning fund.”
Expenses included personal purchases, vacations, exorbitant bonuses and campaign contributions totaling $460,000 to 64 legislators and both gubernatorial candidates.
Democratic candidate for governor Joy Hofmeister responded immediately:
“It’s outrageous Epic’s founders would use the Learning Fund, meant for children, as their own personal trough for political contributions. Today, I have set in motion steps with the Ethics Commission to legally refund back to public schools any campaign donations that may have come from public funds via Epic’s founders.
“And frankly, if they thought their contribution would ensure favored treatment by me, they were clearly mistaken as I requested this audit, fought to hold them accountable and directed the claw-back of $20 million from Epic in misappropriated funds and penalties.”
The current State Superintendent also recommended that “Epic Charter Schools be placed on probation,” according KFOR.
Still, Republicans would rather have state money in private hands than public schools.
Stitt’s $40,000 a year “secretary of education” Ryan Walters double dips at least $120,000 as executive director of the nonprofit organization Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, which is funded by school privatization and charter school advocates.
Even before he became Stitt’s handpicked man to destroy public education from the inside, Walters helped a Florida company, ClassWallet, secure a no-bid contract to distribute $8 million in federal coronavirus relief money through $1,500 grants.
But, now the Feds want more than $650,000 of that money back since some of the spending was deemed spurious.
School voucher advocates anticipate windfall profits sweeping down the plains toward private schools.
The surest way to monitor educational funding is to keep it under state oversight – to fund public schools.
Electing Joy Hofmeister and Democratic State Supt. candidate Jena Nelson is the best way to do this.
Schools should be learning centers, not profit centers.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party: <scdpok.us> or <facebook.com/SCDPOK/>.)