(to update: This article was updated at 5:46 p.m. Thursday, April 13, to include a non-binding letter from Attorney General Gentner Drummond stating that Walters could have violated Oklahoma’s dual-incumbency law by holding the Secretary of Education and Superintendent of State positions of instruction in one time.)
Since Ryan Walters was sworn in as the state’s superintendent of public education in January, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin State has faced questions about whether it would be appropriate to simultaneously retain Walters as secretary of education, a cabinet position that serves as a liaison between the governor’s office and 40 executive bodiesincluding the state Department of Education and state higher education agents.
On Tuesday, with Walters facing an uncertain confirmation process in the Senate, State blocked his political ally’s ability to pull dual state salaries as supervisor and secretary. State picked Ohio State University associate professor Catherine Curry to replace Walters as education secretary, and rearranged other proverbial human elements in his cabinet on Tuesday as well.
“Catherine brings a wealth of experience to overseeing many different areas of education across the state, including higher education and professional technology,” State said in a press release. “I look forward to her leadership and service as we work to make Oklahoma a top 10 state in education.”
Curry thanked the governor for his decision.
“I’m excited to partner with Gov. Stitt in his quest to make Oklahoma Education a Top 10,” Carey said in the same release. “Oklahoma has some of the best educators in the country, and I look forward to walking hand in hand with these educators to continue creating the strongest education ecosystem in the nation.”
Carey has graduate degrees from Southeast Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, and joined the Ohio State University faculty in 2011 as a Professor in the College of Education, School of Education Studies.
Walters was named State’s education secretary in September 2020, but State’s re-election to a second term in November means all of his cabinet secretary positions will need to be confirmed again before the legislature adjourns in May.
“I’m excited to have Dr. Curry on our team,” Walters said in a State press release. “The governor and I are passionate about improving K-12 for all students, improving higher education, and supporting our great educators to make Oklahoma a top 10 state for education. We are all committed to transparency and accountability to ensure all educational institutions align with Oklahoma values.”
Asked if it was his or State’s decision to make a change in the position of Secretary of Education, Walters said “He and I have been working on this for a while.”
“The governor and I have been working on adding someone to the team — very excited to have her on the team,” Walters said following the conclusion of the statewide virtual charter school board meeting Tuesday. “The governor and I will continue to work to make us a Top 10 in every aspect of education. That includes K-12, vocational technology, and higher education, so I’m (happy) to have a new partner on the team.”
State Senate leaders, who endorse or reject appointments to governor, offered limited comment on whether they might reconfirm Walters due to questions about whether it is legal and appropriate for a state director of public education to receive a second state salary as secretary of education.
“We’re looking at that. There’s been some issues raised about it. We know there’s a Sandy Garrett example, but I know there are some subtle differences,” Senate Pro Temporary Chair Greg Treat (R-OKC) said February 9th. “We want to make sure we abide by the law, and if they qualify and get a fair shake, obviously I — he’s my constituent, and I did his confirmation before he was elected. But that’s a new wrinkle, so we’re looking at it.”
On March 7, Attorney General Gentner Drummond sent a letter to the Treat company telling them that Walters holding the position of secretary and supervisor at the same time likely violated state law prohibiting anyone from holding dual positions. The letter, while non-binding, cited multiple state laws and past court cases.
Drummond wrote: “My conclusion is that Mr. Walters cannot act simultaneously as Secretary of Education and Comptroller of State.”
Treatment did not release the letter until after State removed Walters as secretary, more than a month later.
Asked if Treat had more comments on whether Walters had the Senate votes needed for confirmation, Speaker Alex Gershowski did not respond before this article was published.
Stitt adjusts other cabinet positions
Earlier Tuesday, State announced broader changes to his cabinet, including:
- Creation of the position of Secretary of Operations and Government Efficiency;
- Creation of the position of Secretary of Workforce Development; And
- Elimination of the Secretary of Science and Innovation.
State’s press release noted that the Cabinet could not consist of more than 15 positions, and said that Oklahoma Director of Operations John Sutter would become the new Secretary of Operations and Government Efficiency.
The press release stated that Stitt’s Secretary of Workforce Development will be officially announced following a recommendation from the Governor’s Workforce Change Task Force.
(to update: This article was updated at 4:40 PM Tuesday, April 11 to include additional quotes from Ryan Walters.)