A State School Superintendent Is Using Public Funds — For His Own PR

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Mar 29, 2024

When most people work in education, regardless of their role, they do so to promote children’s learning.

However, one superintendent in Oklahoma, Ryan Walters, has decided to promote himself instead, and is using public money to do so. 

Ryan Walters Used to Be a Teacher

Before his time as superintendent, Ryan Walters used to be a high school teacher.

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Ryan Walters at the United States House Committee.

Source: United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce/Wikimedia Commons

The Ryan Walters for Oklahoma website states that he spent eight years as a high school history teacher and then became the Secretary of Public Education in Oklahoma in 2020. 

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Ryan Walters Became Superintendent in 2023

Having spent over 10 years working in education, Walters became superintendent for state schools in Oklahoma in 2023.

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Ryan Walters giving a speech to a group of people who are sitting around tables with plastic cups in front of them. Walters is standing behind a lectern with the US flag behind him.

Source: @walters4ok/Instagram

The Oklahoman reported that Walters won 53% of the vote against his opponent April Grace. 

Ryan Walters Is a Hard Conservative

Walters won the race for superintendent in a majority Republican state, with many voters likely in favor of his policies.

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Ryan Walters sitting with a serious face with the US flag behind him.

Source: KOCO 5 News/YouTube

The Oklahoman reported that Walters wanted to eliminate “woke ideology” in schools and direct taxpayers’ money toward private schools.

Ryan Walters Fined for Violations During His Superintendent Campaign

Throughout his campaign to become superintendent, Walters was accused of committing 14 violations, according to KOSU

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Ryan Walters sitting in a school library with books on shelves behind him.

Source: KOCO 5 News/YouTube

Some of these violations include lying to the legislative education committee about filing federal grants, sending pornographic material to legislative staff, and sharing an altered video from a far-right account on social media.

Ryan Walters Uses a PR Company

As a way of maintaining his own PR, Walters uses the company Vought Strategies.

Ryan Walters giving a speech. He is standing in front of a microphone.

Source: KOCO 5 News/YouTube

The Vought Strategies website states that help their clients to achieve their messaging goals through public relations, media bookings, crisis communications, and communications strategy. 

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Vought LLC Set Up by the State

David Martin, who is an education department employee, set up Vought LLC on Nov. 9, which was the last day proposals could be accepted.

A purchase order from the Department of Education for some media/videography services. The total amount comes to $50,000.

Source: @Wsuares/X

Although the reason for setting up the LLC has not been explained, it does raise many questions about how taxpayer money is being used.

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Ryan Walters Makes Various TV and Radio Appearances Each Month

Not wanting to just appear in the media on one-off occasions, Walters is using Vought Strategies to really boost his profile.

Ryan Walters giving an interview with a TV company. He is sitting in a brown leather chair with a US flag, some lamps, and some closed shutters behind him.

Source: KOKO 5 News/YouTube

So much so that Tulsa World has reported that Vought Strategies was hired to get Walters at least 10 national TV and radio appearances each month. 

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Ryan Walters’ PR Is Costing Taxpayers $20,000 per Month

One of the most concerning things is the amount of money that Walters’ PR is costing the taxpayer.

Ryan Walters giving a speech and holding a microphone.

Source: KOCO 5 News/YouTube

The initial contract was for $30,000 for four months. However, the contract is now at $20,000 per month.

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A Former Attorney General Has Shown Concern

Drew Edmundson, a former attorney general, has said that Walters’ use of public money for his PR is concerning, according to The Oklahoman

Drew Edmundson giving a speech to a group of people.

Source: @Drewforoklahoma/Instagram

Edmundson said that using public money for Walters’ gain is “an illegal use of public funds and public resources,” but he also maintained that this was his personal view of the matter.

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Ryan Walters Claims the PR Is for 'Teacher Recruitment'

During an interview with KOKH – Fox 25, Walters said that his use of PR helps drive a teacher recruitment initiative. 

Ryan Walters talking to a group of people. He has one hand in his trouser pocket and the other hand is holding a microphone.

Source: KOCO 5 News/YouTube

Walters said that he goes on national TV and radio to try to drive teachers to come and teach in Oklahoma. The comments were made during a livestream of the interview on YouTube, and many commenters did not believe him. 

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No Emails Suggest the PR Is for Teacher Recruitment

Fox 25 shared some of the emails that came from Vought Strategies regarding the media appearances.

Ryan Walters in a TV interview. He is standing in front of a sign that says “Fox 25. We’ve got your back. Our mission is to protect and empower Oklahomans by holding the powerful accountable, saving Oklahomans time and money, and providing tools and information to take action.”

Source: KOKH - Fox 25/YouTube

Despite Walters’ claims that he was using PR for teacher recruitment, the emails instead show that Walters is using PR to drive his views and opinions, such as regarding drag queens in classrooms and PETA, and nothing about teacher recruitment. This has caused many to demand to know the real need for taxpayers’ money on these PR stunts. 

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