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Oklahoma suspends education department’s PR spending

"Oklahoma Education Suspension"
“Oklahoma Education Suspension”

Oklahoma legislators have suspended the State Department of Education (OSDE) ‘s public relations expenditures, a decision affirmed by the Joint Appropriations and Budget Committees of the Oklahoma House and Senate. This action was triggered by concerns raised about the proper use of tax dollars, with the intent to scrutinize the budget and ensure all funds are efficiently and responsibly allocated.

The suspension is part of a larger state-wide effort to improve the education department’s spending transparency. The legislators’ aim primarily focuses on student achievement and improved classroom resources rather than PR activities. The length of this suspension and any pending changes are yet to be determined. However, the hope is that it will boost accountability, advocate for students, and improve educational outcomes.

Representative Mark McBride (R-Moore), chair of the House of Representatives Education Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee, supports the decision, citing it as vital due to the department’s mismanagement of state-funded publicity.

Suspension of Oklahoma’s educational PR funding

He has voiced concerns about the appropriate use of funds, emphasizing that every dollar should contribute to the state’s educational endeavors and progress. “The decision was crucial,” McBride stated, “to ensure transparency and champion the careful use of taxpayers’ money.”

Previously, the OSDE contracted with Precision Outreach for a “public awareness campaign,” but its impact was lower than expected, garnering only 3.8k views on YouTube. Precision Outreach is expected to produce social media videos under a $50k contract with OSDE that potentially extends to 2024 and even goes beyond that.

The OSDE also partnered with Vought Strategies, a Washington D.C. PR firm, incurring $30k in additional taxpayer expenses but increasing public exposure through Walters’ appearances on national news outlets.

However, Representative Forrest Bennett (D-OKC) criticized the OSDE’s spending habits as “extravagant and showy,” leading to moves toward Senate Bill No. 1125, which aims to outlaw the misuse of funds for PR or promotional purposes. Given Governor Kevin Stitt’s approval, this bill is set to take effect on July 1.

Given the Senate’s approval of an OSDE budget of over $3.8 billion, Representative McBride emphasized the need for an oversight representative to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in fund usage and communication with stakeholders. He concludes, “An OSDE point person is essential in achieving this goal.”

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