August 15, 2023

Tulsa World Editorial Board: Losing control of Tulsa schools to state bureaucrats bad for city and students

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Ryan Walters has been making noises about taking over Tulsa schools. These editors see just how bad an idea this is, and how bogus are the arguments made to support it. Walters wants to play with the big boys on the right, like Governor Abbott of Texas and Governor DeSantis of Florida.

It’s obvious that Walters wants a piece of this national attention. He continuously ups the ante on rhetoric, a not-so-sly distraction from his own problems, which include audits of his mismanagement of $8 million in federal pandemic funds and growing resignations in his state agency.

He has stepped outside precedent to ignore his agency’s recommendation to approve TPS for accreditation. Instead, he is looking to pull accreditation or put the district on probation based on dubious legal reasoning and distorted facts.

Depending on the option, he could fire TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist and install his own choice, who would be responsible to him, not to the elected school board. He could dismantle the local board. This means Tulsans would have no recourse if they disagreed with choices that hand-picked superintendent made.

This is about as anti-American as it gets. Walters is ignoring the will of Tulsa voters for personal gain. It goes against our shared democratic principles.

Information Walters presented at a press conference last week was full of misinformation, easily dismissed by available public records. He also threatened to eject reporters who gave public advance notice of the event, which was held at the Tulsa County Republican Party headquarters. That isn’t the behavior of a transparent leader.

No evidence indicates that state bureaucrats are better at running local schools than local superintendents and school boards are. Researchers at Brown University and the University of Virginia’s 2021 analysis of 35 state takeovers of schools found on average “no evidence that takeover generates academic benefits.”

If Walters truly wants to help, he can start by offering state resources, meeting with all TPS board members and cutting out the theater. If not, then this is just another of his attention-seeking power plays.
Read the full editorial here. 


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