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Oklahoma lawmakers propose education department spending ban

"Oklahoma Education Ban"
“Oklahoma Education Ban”

The unified committees on Appropriations and Budget from the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate have advanced a spending ban on the State Department of Education’s (OSDE) public relations. Lawmakers have derided the department’s spending as excessive, triggering the proposal for a budget limit. The ban’s aim is to encourage transparency and fiscal responsibility, pending further legislative endorsement.

The triggering incident was the OSDE’s recruitment of Precision Outreach, a Texas-based video production company, using taxpayer money. The OSDE had not only employed the company for a thirty-minute project but also hired them to create social media videos.

In addition, the OSDE procured services from Vought Strategies, a PR firm located in Washington D.C. The OSDE paid the firm a hefty sum for a range of PR tasks, including counteracting adverse news, creating a positive public image, and improving communication strategies. The decision sparked controversy, but OSDE representatives defended this expenditure, emphasizing that the department follows all necessary procedures to ensure accountability and transparency.

One of the projects was a public awareness video featuring State Superintendent Ryan Walters, which did not receive the expected number of views. Despite the disappointing viewership figures, Walters and the OSDE remained committed to improving public awareness about the education system.

At this time, no law in Oklahoma prevents the use of taxpayer money for PR and self-promotion by public officials.

Proposed spending ban on Oklahoma’s education PR

However, legislation that could limit the use of public money for these activities is in the works. If approved by Governor Kevin Stitt, this bill could prevent the OSDE from using funds for self-promotion and media appearances.

Meanwhile, the Senate has approved a significant OSDE budget. Legislators have expressed the need for the OSDE to shift focus from self-promotion to addressing the concerns of educators, students, and parents. Proposing improved transparency and dialogue mechanisms, lawmakers have emphasized the importance of public education for the state’s socio-economic advancement.

In response to these demands, the OSDE pledged to continue the comprehensive review of its operations, promising to make the necessary changes. Yet, they asked for patience, reminding all parties about the complexities involved in the reform process. It remains to be seen whether the budget increase will translate into meaningful improvements within the education sector, aiming for more beneficial results for all parties involved.

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