Oklahoma CareerTech’s board of directors omitted a $400,000 line item from its newly passed annual budget due to questions about how it ended up on the hook for a program members were said to have been selected by Governor Kevin Stitt to operate from another state agency.
Stitt’s office announcement in October 2020, the governor was launching an Oklahoma-based program for at-risk high school students through a national nonprofit called Jobs for America’s Graduates, or JAG, and would join 13 other governors on the board administration of the JAG.
The program was initially managed by Oklahoma’s Office of Education Quality and Accountability, under the supervision of Ryan Walters, the Stitt-appointed Secretary of Education. He placed six state employees at various high schools across the state in an effort to connect at-risk students with real-life work experiences to prevent them from dropping out.
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But CareerTech administrators told CareerTech board members at a meeting Thursday that a year ago the agency was told the JAG was “transferring” from OEQA to CareerTech.
Because CareerTech’s Board of Directors had already passed the agency’s fiscal year 2022 budget, CareerTech has used its state funding allocation “carry-forward” fund for fiscal year 2021 to date. not spent on the JAG.
CareerTech proposed a new budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, with $388,448 dedicated to the JAG, but the funding was cut after lengthy discussion at Thursday’s board meeting.
CareerTech administrators said they should seek answers to members’ questions and concerns about why the state-funded program was not put out to tender or requests for proposals or even voted by the CareerTech Board of Directors for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. .
“I know that’s something the state auditor is asking questions about right now – asking, ‘How did a vendor just get selected to appear on a budget to present to a council?’ there is no RFP (request for proposals)? said Joy Hofmeister, whose duty it is as Oklahoma’s elected state superintendent of public instruction to chair the nine-member council.
“I would just have to ask about how it all started. There is no call for tenders. This has been a topic we’ve seen in the news, and things just landed (on an agency budget). I would need to have those answers before considering something like this.
The Office of the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector was commissioned to conduct an investigative audit of the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation as part of enforcement investigations of the law over “potential fraudulent activity” in a state park restaurant deal with a company called Swadley’s Bar-BQ.
The remainder of the new budget proposed by CareerTech was unanimously approved by the Board of Directors. General state appropriations to the agency rose 2.2%, or nearly $3 million, to $137.6 million.
In addition to Hofmeister, who is running for governor, the board has eight other members, who are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.
Lee Denney, a former Cushing lawmaker who took office on March 1 as acting director of CareerTech, first explained that the agency had this particular program transferred from JAG “at the end of the last exercise by the OEQA”.
When board member Estela Hernandez asked about the results, CareerTech administrators said the program, which had four state employees placed in high schools in Bartlesville, Broken Arrow and Wewoka to provide intervention services to students at risk of dropping out, “just didn’t work.”
“We just received the program last year, on July 1st. We were using the deferred money to fund these three programs, and it didn’t go as planned. I’ll be honest,” Denney said.
Most of the cost is funding the school’s employees, plus, Denney said, “We’re paying, I think, a $25,000 dues to the JAG (the national organization).”
If approved at a later date, the state’s JAG program is expected to expand to several additional high school sites in 2022-23. But rather than installing state program employees, CareerTech would send program funding to each participating high school to employ a local teacher to serve at-risk students under the JAG program.
Stitt’s office had no responses to questions for that story Friday.