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Oklahoma legislature limits education department’s PR spending

"Oklahoma Legislature Education"
“Oklahoma Legislature Education”

Oklahoma’s House and Senate Joint Committees on Appropriations and Budget have enacted a ban on the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) ‘s public relations spending. The move is a result of questionable financial activities, including a controversial $22.5k spent on video production through a Texas-based firm, Precision Outreach.

Representative Mark McBride cited these expenditures as extravagant and possibly indicative of financial mismanagement. Following this, a public call for increased transparency and comprehensive auditing of the OSDE’s financial dealings urged the OSDE to spend more efficiently.

Investigations revealed two contracts with Precision Outreach from May 2023 to June 2024, which cost the state roughly $50k. The contracts commissioned videos about statewide welfare programs, with one focusing on Educational Support Programs and the other on the state’s Child Nutrition Programs. Despite the public scrutiny over their cost, these videos have received significant attention on social platforms and have increased engagement with these welfare programs.

Further, OSDE’s involvement with Vought Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based PR firm, sparked more debate.

Oklahoma curtails education department’s PR spending

The firm was paid $30k for its services, which coincided with State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ significant time in the national media. This has led to accusations of an overly aggressive PR strategy and calls for changes in practices.

Representative Forrest Bennett is among those urging for a rethink of tactics, proposing legislation to limit state funds for PR expenses. If Governor Kevin Stitt approves the legislation (SB1122), its operations will commence on July 1, 2024. Meanwhile, the Senate has endorsed a budget surpassing $3.8 billion for the OSDE.

Representative McBride has called for a reorientation towards teacher welfare, student development, and parent engagement rather than mere media promotion. She emphasizes the need to improve the education system substantively rather than superficially, a change that is expected to positively impact teachers, students, and parents alike.

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