Ryan Walters has expressed publicly his concern about the accreditation of TPS by the state Board of Education. The coalition is rallying other organizations across Tulsa to stand up against Walters’ efforts to interfere with the administration of TPS. The coalition wrote a letter on Aug. 17 warning of the dangers a state takeover of TPS would pose.
“Any such action would bypass the democratic process and undermine the authority of the TPS Board of Education, which has been entrusted by Tulsa voters with the responsibility to make decisions about what is best for the district,” the letter said. “Any form of a state takeover of TPS would devastate student learning, create chaos and uncertainty for teachers and families, negatively impact businesses that rely on schools to prepare TPS kids for work and life, hinder our region’s efforts to attract and retain businesses, and depreciate home values.”
The signatories of the letter include nine major Tulsa-based philanthropies and the heads of the Cherokee and Muskogee Creek tribal governments. They sent the letter to over 200 organizations across Tulsa, urging them to join in the fight against Walters’ attempted putsch and to do all they could to back TPS.
“We believe this issue impacts all who care about the future of our city—including those of us who directly support K-12 education, as well as anyone who works on other issues, whether it is youth programming, higher education, housing stability, food security, social services, healthcare, and mental health services and much more,” the letter said.
Call to action
The letter and ensuring campaign amounts to an all-out call to action to stop the campaign of threats Walters and others have made against TPS. This rare show of activism among some of Tulsa’s leading philanthropists expresses their sentiments that the danger facing TPS is dire and imminent. Sent on the eve of the school opening for the 2023-24 school year, it adds urgency and drama to the efforts to save TPS. The letter is one of several efforts that Tulsa parents, schoolteachers, and other concerned locals are taking to support the accreditation of TPS and stop an attempted state takeover.
“Supporting our public schools is always urgent,” said Alexandra Paschal, program manager at the Ed Darby Foundation, in an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle. The Ed Darby Foundation is one of the signatories of the letter. Based in Tulsa, the foundation funds educational, developmental, and community programs that allow economically disadvantaged Tulsa students to fulfill their potential.
“Improving academic outcomes, especially in our schools with students who are at an economic disadvantage, is paramount,” Paschal continued. “Oklahoma schools are underfunded and are facing a teacher shortage. The lack of resources are compounded with having to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Threats from the state are creating uncertainty about the stability of the district for students, families, and staff. Our schools and educators have never needed support more than they do today. Forcing them to defend themselves against attacks from the people who should be supporting them the most is unfair and irresponsible.”
The coalition sent the letter to a broad spectrum of more than 200 groups and organizations across Tulsa. “We ask that you consider showing your support for Tulsa Public Schools in ways that feel aligned with your mission and values,” the letter said.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education is scheduled to meet on Aug. 24 to consider the accreditation of TPS. The Board could vote for a state takeover of TPS at that meeting. The letter from philanthropies and tribal leaders urged “all who care about the future” of Tulsa to write to Gov. Kevin Stitt and to members of the State Board of Education to voice support for the accreditation of TPS and opposition to a takeover.
It also suggested other actions Tulsans can take, including attending school board meetings and other gatherings where the TPS issues are being considered.
Keep TPS in hands of Tulsans
In the interview with The Oklahoma Eagle, Paschal explained the importance of keeping the TPS administration in charge of Tulsa Public Schools. “There is an important distinction between the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education who were elected by Tulsans and the State Board of Education who were appointed by the state. With the exception of one individual, the state board is not made up of Tulsans,” she said. “If the State Department of Education strips the rights of the District Board of Education, they are threatening local control and flouting our democratic process. They do not know our community better than we do. They do not have students in our schools, they do not employ staff who would be adversely impacted if their children’s schools lose accreditation.”
Representatives of the following entities signed the letter:
Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies
Cortez Family Foundation
Ed Darby Foundation
Flint Family Foundation
Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation
Muscogee Creek Nation
Sanford & Irene Burnstein Family Foundation
The Sharna and Irvin Frank Foundation
The letter’s recipients include 100 Black Men of Tulsa, Impact Tulsa, and the Tulsa Dream Center, among dozens of others.The Oklahoma Eagle reached out to the office of Superintendent Ryan Walters requesting a response to the letter. Walters’ office has not responded by the newspaper’s publication deadline.