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State releases held-up early childhood contract funds

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The funds for an early childhood contract that were withheld over an unrelated pending audit of Tulsa Public Schools have been released.

In a Monday afternoon tweet, Secretary of Education Ryan Walters said he had received enough information from the State Department of Education to allay his concerns about TPS’ potential involvement in a multimillion-dollar state contract with Community Action Project of Tulsa, even though the district was not a party to the agreement.

As a gubernatorial Cabinet member, Walters must sign off on all nonemergency expenses greater than $25,000 for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“I’ve appreciated having the public discussion through the press with Joy Hofmeister regarding transparency and accountability of taxpayer dollars,” he tweeted. “With the help of Hofmeister’s communications office, she’s now sending me the information I requested several weeks ago.”

Hofmeister, the state superintendent, is running for governor as a Democrat, while Walters is in the Republican runoff to be the next state superintendent.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education confirmed Monday afternoon that early childhood contract funds have been released. However, a representative for CAP Tulsa said Monday afternoon that the organization had not received any notification about the block being lifted or when it would start receiving the delayed dollars.

During the 2022 session, the Oklahoma Legislature allocated $12 million specifically for the Oklahoma Early Childhood Program, which serves children age 3 and younger from low-income families.

CAP Tulsa administers the Oklahoma Early Childhood Program statewide and also provides matching funds for it. The organization bids for the program annually and has run it on behalf of the Oklahoma State Department of Education since 2006.

Documents obtained by the Tulsa World indicate that the early childhood requisition was one of 24 Walters had refused to sign before the end of the last fiscal year, June 30. The requisition for the early childhood contract was sent to Walters’ office in mid-June and did not include any references to Tulsa Public Schools.

Walters initially sent questions about the contract to the Oklahoma State Department of Education on June 25 and received answers in writing within 48 hours.

He did not reference any concerns or questions about TPS’ potential involvement until two weeks into the current fiscal year, when he asked via email on July 14 what steps would be taken to ensure that the money was spent in accordance with state law due to pending state audits of both the Tulsa district and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Although CAP Tulsa has agreements with TPS for other services and has early childhood sites next door to several Tulsa elementary schools, Executive Director Karen Kiely previously told the Tulsa World that TPS has no involvement at all with the programs covered by the delayed contract.

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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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