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The Oklahoman lifts veil on behind-the-scenes PR push to defund public education…

Once again, I promise we’re not trying to become a full-time public education advocacy blog, but here we are!

Yesterday, the new and improved Oklahoman took an inside look at the behind-the-scenes efforts to privatize and sabotage public education in Oklahoma

In particular, they shined a light on the special interests groups, right-wing think tanks, and local PR firms who all want to pry education funding away from public schools and put it directly into the cold dead hands of education grifters, Nichols Hills elite, and anti-vaxxer religious home school moms who make their own soap. 

Here are some details via a Ben Smelder-the-Felder article with The Oklahoman:

Over the last several months, a group calling itself the “Oklahoma Education Reform Coalition” has held an out-of-state planning retreat along with monthly meetings, developed a detailed communications strategy, and worked to gain support among various parent support groups, all in the hopes of getting lawmakers to allow private schools to receive tax dollars, according to dozens of emails, meeting notes and presentation slides obtained by The Oklahoman. 

Coordinating the effort is Saxum, an Oklahoma City-based public relations firm with multiple state contracts, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, a nonprofit recently managed by State Supt. Ryan Walters, and the Walton Family Foundation, a pro-school choice organization funded by the founding family of Walmart.

Attending meetings and included on strategy email chains are representatives from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Americans for Prosperity, The Heritage Foundation, Yes. Every Kid, and the American Federation for Children, all conservative political organizations that promote school voucher policies and lobby at the state Capitol.

Yep, Renzi Stone – a leading member of the Young Presidents Organization that’s infiltrated Oklahoma government at all levels – and his PR firm Saxum is coordinating the effort to heart, hustle and hardwood education funding away from cash-strapped public schools. How’s that for using your influence for evil?

Even though Renzi is a product of Oklahoma public schools and used them as a launching pad to build a successful business career, I guess we can’t blame him for wanting to help defund them.

If I was being paid $240,000K to build an illusion that there’s a strong grassroots effort to siphon money away from Oklahoma students to benefit wealthy elites, I’d also be tempted to sacrifice my values and push a plan that’s bad for kids in the state I call home:

Although its aim was to make support for school vouchers appear "grassroots," Saxum has been paid a large amount of money to coordinate the effort. The Oklahoman was shown a contract between Every Kid Counts Oklahoma and Saxum for $240,000 a year.

However, a Saxum official denied it has received any payment from Every Kid Counts Oklahoma.

"EKCO does not pay Saxum. They never have," Saxum senior vice president Jennifer Monies texted The Oklahoman on Thursday.

Monies said Saxum has a contract with the Walton Family Foundation directly.

To quote the great OAN fan Mike Gundy, “Get your facts straight, Oklahoman!” 

EKCO, the non-profit organization that launched the career of Ryan Walters and was created by Oklahoma State School Board member Trent Smith – a former Boomer-Sooner who made his money in the prison healthcare industry and, not coincidentally, is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization – didn’t pay Saxum a dime. 

Instead, EKCO asked their benefactors in the Walton family – a.k.a. people who benefit from a dumb, uneducated populace – to give Saxum the money! Big difference, right?

Here’s more:

Last year, The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch reported that much of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma's funding comes from the Walton Family Foundation and an education group founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.

A representative of the Walton Family Foundation is included on coalition emails and listed on an internal directory of coalition members, according to documents obtained by The Oklahoman.

A spreadsheet created by Saxum and emailed to the coalition shows a detailed timeline for supporting pro-voucher bills this legislative session. The spreadsheet is titled “WFF ED Coalition Timeline,” which stands for Walton Family Foundation Education Coalition Timeline, according to a source who participated in the meetings.

School vouchers are a central part of Gov. Kevin Stitt's policy agenda this year and his chief of staff, Brandon Tatum, was included in most of the coalition's email exchanges. Tatum is also listed as a member of the coalition in its internal directory.

However, when Saxum officials sent meeting notes or strategy plans to Tatum, they used his personal email address.

If you want to learn more about Brandon Tatum, we published a profile on the bearded-huckster back in November. He’s a big-time public school saboteur with serious private school indoctrination chops. Basically, Stitt picked a great guy for the job.

Despite the fact that they’re clearly lobbying to sabotage public education in the state they call him, Saxum wants to be clear that they’re not lobbying:

Officials from Saxum said their work should not be viewed as lobbying.

"Saxum absolutely does not lobby," said Houda Elyazgi, Saxum's chief client officer. "We provide informational and communications materials to clients about issues they use to educate legislators."

Until last month, Monies, a Saxum senior vice president with Saxum, was a Stitt-appointed member of the state Board of Education, which is in charge of overseeing Oklahoma's public school system. She has been involved in helping her firm craft language in pro-voucher presentations and one-pagers to hand out to supporters.

Last month, Monies, who is also on the board of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, made multiple edits to a presentation Saxum was creating in order to highlight its work for the nonprofit, according to a copy of the presentation shown to The Oklahoman…

Monies said her work was helping to "modernize Oklahoma's education system."

"We have to work together to make sure every Oklahoma student gets a quality education," Monies told The Oklahoman. "I am proud of the work we have done and will continue to do to improve education in Oklahoma."

Yep, nothing says “improving education in Oklahoma” more than serving on the baord of an organization that groomed this guy to be the next Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Education:

You can read more about Renzi Stone and Saxum’s efforts to sabotage public education in Oklahoma over at new and improved Oklahoman.

If you have any additional information on their efforts – or more information about all the rich white dudes in the Young Presidents Organization that are infiltration Oklahoma government at all levels – shoot us an email or text on the Ogle Mole tip line

Stay with The Lost Ogle. We’ll keep you advised.

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