(Correction: A secretary of education in Oklahoma can earn up to $65,000 under state statute. That figure was incorrect in the original version of this story.)

The governor replaced Ryan Walters as secretary of education, a job he held in addition to the superintendent of public instruction. 

Walters has held the secretary post since Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed him in 2020. Stitt reappointed him earlier this year but he had yet to be confirmed by the state Senate.

Stitt on Tuesday announced his new secretary of education is Katherine Curry, an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University in the School of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Aviation.

Cabinet appointments require 25 votes in the Senate confirmation process, which in many cases comes later in the legislative session. A number of senators told The Frontier it was unlikely Walters would receive enough votes for confirmation.

Walters was elected superintendent in November and remains in that role. By statute, the salary for a state superintendent is $124,373, and up to $65,000 for a secretary of education. Walters was earning approximately $40,000 for that job and his combined compensation was more than the governor's.

The main duty of the state superintendent is to direct the state Department of Education, and chair the Board of Education.

Duties of the secretary of education include overseeing the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, a state agency that handles teacher certification and teacher college accreditation, and advising the governor on education policy.

“We’re very excited to have her on the team,” Walters said of Curry’s appointment, which was announced while Walters was attending a meeting of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. “The governor and I are going to continue working to make us top 10 in every aspect of education, that includes K-12, career tech and higher ed.”

As education secretary, Walters came under scrutiny for his handling of an $8 million COVID-19 relief program that used federal funds to give low-income families grants to buy school supplies. An investigation uncovered at least $650,000 was misspent on televisions, home appliances and numerous other items.

After the misspent funds came to light, state officials blamed a vendor and sued. But in January, Oklahoma’s attorney general dismissed the lawsuit and turned the focus to whether any individuals or state officials should be held accountable for their role in what he called an “egregious misuse of tax dollars.”

“It is clear that a number of state actors and other individuals are ultimately responsible for millions in misspent federal relief dollars,” Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a statement.

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Epic Text Books since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or jpalmer@epictextbooks.com. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.

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