Oklahoma voters send education message

August 30, 2022

Jonathan Small

For years, Oklahoma has ranked among the bottom tier of states based on academic outcomes (despite the fact that funding is at a record-high level). Now, parents and Oklahomans from all walks of life and corners of the state are ready for change.

That was the key message sent in the recent state runoff election for the Republican nomination for state superintendent of public instruction.

Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters ran as an unashamed champion of parents’ rights. He openly called for allowing tax dollars to follow the child and letting parents send their children to any school they choose, whether public or private. His victory was not concentrated in one area but reached across the state. Walters won rural counties, suburban areas, and urban areas alike. His victory reflects the widespread desire for change and support for greater school choice.

Walters’ victory was not the result of a well-heeled candidate trouncing underfunded opponents. In fact, Walters weathered outside groups making six-figure buys to run attack ads against him and thousands of dollars spent on mailers trashing him.

One liberal teachers’ union group openly sought to influence the Republican race via social media; another directly contributed thousands of dollars to Walters’ opponent.

School-choice opponents used every smear they could concoct to beat Walters; voters rejected those efforts.

Furthermore, two of Walters primary opponents were longtime public-school superintendents who received vocal support from status-quo forces. They were not gadflies who could be dismissed out of hand.

Yet Walters prevailed.

Why? Because he consistently addressed issues that have parents concerned, including things like Critical Race Theory and other forms of “woke” ideology in classrooms. Walters did not dismiss the concerns of parents. Instead, he vowed to fight for them and stressed parent empowerment as a crucial tool.

Walters’ race is not the only example of a school-choice supporter prevailing at the ballot box.

Gov. Kevin Stitt also championed school choice. He won an easy victory in his June primary against multiple opponents. And Stitt prevailed despite millions being spent to attack him and prop up his opponents.

In state legislative races across Oklahoma, many successful Republican candidates publicly voiced support for school choice and won.

Perhaps even more notable was the fact that incumbent lawmakers who previously worked to stop school-choice expansion survived in part by touting endorsements from school-choice supporters like Stitt, U.S. Sen. James Lankford, and U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Bice. And some of those previous school-choice opponents even claimed to be school-choice supporters in their campaigns.

One might dismiss the results of a single race, or two races, but one cannot ignore the pattern made by this long string of examples.

Polling has long shown supermajority support for school choice among Oklahoma Republican voters. Now those polling results are translating into votes. Oklahomans are showing that they believe outcomes, not intentions, are what matter most in education, and will support politicians who feel the same.