How to Steal a State: Season 4
Superintendent Skirt Suit in Office
In this season:
The return of education-speak.
The voters teach public education a lesson.
A walkout starts with a raise, reveals unspeakable behavior, and ends with teacher tardies.
The Steal Team reunites for re-election, and the billionaires double-down with the unions and tribes.
There’s a new target in town for the team.
Hofmeister and her billionaire backer make the move into educational television.
Hofmeister’s OSDE EPICally fails as auditor, prompting an audit on OSDE.
Pandemic politics, mask and mandate mania, and chronically closed campuses.
Paycom’s pandemic power play.
Purposeful pandemic panic and profits, vaccine pressures, and the return of student “testing”.
Pushback for progressive teaching.
Hofmeister’s gets a report card.
The coming out: Superintendent Skirt Suit sheds her other outfit of sheep’s clothing.
Propelled by a successful dark money campaign financed by the state-level educators’ unions, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister took office on January 12th, 2015. Unfortunately for Hofmeister, and just prior to the election, her dark money director, Chad Alexander, decided to take a drive with a bag of cocaine and a bottle of pills and got caught, putting a laptop of breadcrumbs related to the dark money conspiracy and Hofmeister’s involvement into the hands of police.
Hofmeister laid somewhat low during the bulk of her first term (2015-2019), as the investigation into her dark money connections during the 2014 Republican primary began its long, slow roll toward her indictment. She faithfully did the bidding of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions that funded her and stuck to the tried-and-true areas of focus that made it appear she was fighting to improve public schooling in Oklahoma.
The Return of Education-Speak
With Barresi out of the way, there was, once again, long-term focus on changing “standards”, as well as “frameworks” with which to guide “the work”. Education-speak had returned to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. After all, if your state is failing in education, maybe you just need to change the yardstick by which you measure success. And if you keep changing the yardstick, they’ll conveniently never be able to compare one year to the next to determine if the quality of instruction is going up or down, at least not until after you’ve moved on to a higher office. Standards are great, but public education tends to avoid talk about actual results. A steering committee, including many with “Dr” in front of their names, was formed to begin another long, inclusive “conversation” about what public education standards should include in Oklahoma, as if the state again needed to start from scratch.
Oklahoma’s families had been through the same cycle many times, as bureaucrats argued over state versus federal academic standards or Common Core while their children moved through and aged out of failing schools. The only urgent matter for Hofmeister and the unions seemed to be eliminating testing, which along with education funding, has continually been a topical fall-guy for Oklahoma’s lackluster public education system. Hofmeister successfully lobbied for the elimination of a day of field testing associated with writing and End of Instruction (EOI) tests for high schoolers that previously confirmed student mastery on four of seven core subject tests in order to graduate. Accountability measures began to melt. Gone was Barresi’s straight talk and sense of urgency about making real and impactful instructional change. After all, that talk was too mean.
Teachers and their unions applauded through their local media microphones, as Hofmeister continually and publicly appreciated them and was vocal about their need for a pay raise. All of them. No matter what. Hofmeister was doing nothing to strengthen accountability for the grownups in schools or administrator’s offices and was a spokesperson for their raises, with no required improvements attached. She avoided talk about the excessive salaries of many district administrators or long overdue conversations about consolidating the smallest districts to better fund classrooms and increase salaries for high-performing teachers. It was a behind-the-scenes, mutual lovefest between Hofmeister and the unions, with parents and their opinions not invited.
Oklahoma Voters Teach Public Ed a Lesson
In November of 2016, after a year under Hofmeister’s leadership, in which she was very publicly indicted for felony conspiracy related to her dark money campaign and provided ample evidence that she and the public education establishment were not interested in substantive change beyond being paid more, the previously voiceless voters responded by voting “NO” to State Question 779. State Question 779 represented a proposed sales tax hike to fund pay raises for public school teachers, which many in the state supported as being necessary, particularly for good teachers, along with a boatload of funds for higher education, which many taxpayers were strongly opposed to providing. It was a shot across the bow of the state’s bureaucracy. The people of Oklahoma were attempting to wrestle the sails of public education back into a more effective and less corrupt direction.
State Question 779, as a ballot initiative, was championed by then president of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren (D), former governor, senator and non-official godfather of public education among state leaders. With no spending restrictions, 19.25% of the additional funds raised through the proposed passage of Question 779, estimated at $120 million, would go to Boren and the regents providing oversight of the state’s colleges and universities to do with as they pleased. Unlike Oklahoma’s elementary and secondary public-school teachers, the folks at the University of Oklahoma are well paid and work on a campus resembling a country club. It turns out the voting public was wise not to hand Boren millions more in funding, as he resigned from the university due to a sexual misconduct scandal in 2019, leaving the university with a debt of over $1.6 billion due to decades of overspending and fiscal mismanagement.
Oklahoma already had one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation, without the increase proposed within State Question 779. The resounding defeat of the measure (59.4% nay) represented an unusual slap of public disapproval for decades of ineffective, Democrat lordship over the state’s educational system. People were willing to pay K-12 teachers the proposed $5,000 annual raise, given Oklahoma’s lagging salaries for public classroom educators and desperate need to keep quality educators, but they would sink the ship if its cargo hold carried booty for the already overfunded and increasingly woke public colleges and universities in the state. They wanted fiscal and performance accountability, real improvement, and for the education establishment to take their earplugs out.
The media, teachers, Boren and Hofmeister lamented the failed measure. Hofmeister’s reaction to the defeat of 779 during an interview on News 9 television in Oklahoma City is everything you’d expect. Even with felony charges pending, the media treated her with kid gloves, being sure to introduce Hofmeister with the caveat that she could not comment on her pending case. Watch as she responds to the idea of reducing the number of superintendents and districts to increase pay for teachers. Public-facing Hofmeister sidesteps and goes into a financial word-salad. Translation for us non-elites: “It’s just too complicated for people to understand”. The ineffective, education-speak continues, as Hofmeister expresses being “excited about these advanced conversations” between education leaders and legislators with no mention of parents. Then, she goes into the “multi-year, state-education (ESSA) plan” her team is working on. Multi-year plans, frameworks, new measures, and standards… Hofmeister was regurgitating the never-ending, establishment talking points, as Oklahoma slipped a few more notches in the national rankings for public education quality.
In many ways, Hofmeister’s time as head of public education in Oklahoma mirrored the growing, national divide between public education and parents, with the media and education establishment speaking in perfect synchronicity and praise of educators while remaining tone-deaf to the growing dissatisfaction among parents about the quality and content of the instruction their children receive. In both Hofmeister’s first and second terms as Superintendent of Public Instruction, major events would arise that gave parents a clearer window into the current world of teaching in Oklahoma, further eroding trust in the state’s public school system.
For the most part, this generation of parents had been allowed only 15-minute intervals at parent-teacher conferences to gain a face-to-face familiarity with those teaching their children each day. Of course, a small number of parents often seem to be at school daily and highly involved in activities, but those individuals tend to either be in lockstep with the current educational culture or lawnmower parents only concerned with mowing the perfect, controlled path for their child’s schooling experience. Most parents have felt increasingly removed from their children’s schools and related decision-making processes for some time, with state and district leaders seeming to lack any sense of urgency about badly needed improvements in the system.
Under Hofmeister, a teacher walkout in early 2018 and a pandemic beginning in 2020 allowed parents a much longer look at who was manning Oklahoma’s classrooms, including their strengths, shortcomings, leadership, and motivations. In addition, as parents increasingly chose to opt out of traditional public education, where possible, Hofmeister and the education unions continued to fail in reading the voter tealeaves, deciding instead to attack the institutions providing options to parents trapped in failing or chronically closed schools. Private, charter, and virtual schools became frequent targets.
A Teacher Walkout Reveals Safety Concerns for Parents
In the wake of State Question 779’s defeat, teachers and many others in Oklahoma, including state legislators, took action to provide the needed pay raises for classroom teachers. During February of 2018, the Oklahoma legislature passed a bill giving classroom teachers, on average, a $6,100 annual raise. This legislation was proof Oklahomans supported an even bigger raise for classroom teachers than was proposed in 779. Once unbundled from Boren, higher education, and Hofmeister, people wanted to pay teachers more and wanted to keep them from leaving the state for better paying positions.
Around the same time, a nationwide trend involving teacher walkouts was well underway, with West Virginia and Arizona leading the pack and social media playing a pivotal role. The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) was not going to let a public opportunity go to waste, and despite the raise, upped demands for a $10,000 raise for teachers, $5,000 for school support personnel, and millions more for classroom supplies, prompting thousands of educators to begin a nine-day walkout that closed many schools and districts.
On April 2, 2018, thousands of teachers walked off the job, closing hundreds of schools across the state, including all schools within the state’s largest districts, Oklahoma City PS and Tulsa PS. Hofmeister was right there with them. Despite the $6,100 raise, tens of thousands of teachers flooded the state capitol to demand more. Hofmeister took to the media praising teachers for “keeping the momentum going”. As the strike continued beyond a week, leaving hundreds of thousands of children without education, nutrition and supervision, public support for striking educators began to shift. With parents struggling to work and find appropriate care for children with schools closed, and in light of the substantial teacher raise just approved, many expressed a desire for schools to reopen.
While Hofmeister and the OEA used the walkout to squarely blame Oklahoma’s longstanding underperformance in public education entirely on funding, a strategy that would come to haunt Hofmeister in her political future, the event provided parents with several public examples proving it wasn’t all about money. During the walkout, Keri Hoffman, a married, female, middle school teacher from Clinton Public Schools was arrested for having sex multiple times with a student she transported to and from the teacher walkout.
In addition, Stillwater Junior High teacher Alberto Morejon, a public leader and social media organizer of the 2018 teacher walkout, was arrested and convicted of sexting with a student, avoiding conviction on a separate charge of forcible oral sodomy through a plea bargain. Morejon, a junior high history teacher from Stillwater, formed the Oklahoma Edvocates Facebook page as the face of the walkout, with over 61,000 teacher followers and rules like “Be Respectful” and “No Hate Speech”. It was hard to take for parents and further eroded the trust between schools and families.
Oklahoma has been no stranger to the growing number of child predators among the ranks of educators, including a rising number of female offenders, and the walkout inadvertently put a spotlight on the larger problem. The message of “more raises for all teachers” becomes difficult to support when even a small number within that group are abusing children. Increasingly, school districts were outed for covering up sexual abuse within their ranks, with several of the higher-profile cases in the state attracting national attention.
The case of Jennifer Caswell, a married, middle school teacher who was having sex with one of her eighth-grade students, led to her unapologetic and insane appearance on the Dr. Phil Show. Caswell took her victim out of Oklahoma to a hotel where the abuse was intercepted by law enforcement and expressed only concern for the damage the discovery caused to her life, claiming the student was never harmed. The child’s father, a local pastor, sued both Caswell for the abuse and Hollis Public Schools for failing to inform him of the abuse after witnesses saw Caswell having sex with the boy in her classroom. Caswell was sentenced to 10 years in prison and the family was awarded $1 million from Caswell and $125,000 from the district. No longer were parents of children abused by Oklahoma educators opting for silence, as some were going public and fighting back to protect others.
In another nationally reported case, the rape by instrumentation of a Bixby High School football player during what was later described as a “hazing” incident occurred at the home of the district’s superintendent, Dr. Kyle Wood. Rather than immediately notifying the police of the crime, the district was accused of attempting to handle the situation on its own as a hazing incident in an attempted cover up.
With stories like these more frequently being reported, not only were Oklahoma parents becoming unsure they could trust their children to teachers, they were also increasingly wary about the lack of transparency about child abuse in public education. Before the walkout, Hofmeister had been silent about the increase in teacher sexual abuse or any possibility of merit-based pay for good teachers, consistently speaking about “our teachers” as one, homogenous group to be universally glorified and appreciated. This pervasive attitude of one-pay-fits-all among education elitists does a serious disservice to effective and trustworthy teachers. Oklahomans know great teachers deserve better pay, and many other teachers should never have been entrusted with children. Hofmeister and the unions were doing nothing but protecting bad and sometimes dangerous teachers.
At her swearing in, Hofmeister stated, “If parents and administrators put more trust in teachers’ abilities, teachers would be able to do their jobs more effectively.”
Making a lack of parental trust the cause of educational ineffectiveness, given Oklahoma’s falling indicators for public education quality and the increasing number of teachers being caught abusing children, was beyond tone-deaf. Trust is an earned and lost commodity. Most taxpayers in the state would expect to be fired for underperformance, much less egregious conduct issues, and they don’t think it’s unreasonable for teachers to abide by similar work expectations. Merit-based pay structures have been previously proposed in Oklahoma by legislators, only to be eviscerated by the education establishment’s power brokers through the voice of education “experts” and “researchers”.
As the walkout wound down, some districts had a difficult time getting teachers back to work, even after OEA President Alicia Priest had declared the walkout over. The public was watching and wondering what the event had accomplished, since no further agreement had been reached. Once again, teacher and soon-to-be-convicted pedophile Alberto Morejon was organizer and leader of a group continuing to protest at the capitol, despite the official end of the walkout. The loudest voice in this crowd of teachers that refused to disperse ended up being a child sex offender. Reports multiplied of teachers defying their local school board decisions to reopen schools after the walkout, thus requiring teachers to show up for work or take personal time off.
At Western Heights PS, a large district serving mostly underprivileged students, striking teachers were docked pay in an amount equal to the pay for a substitute to cover their classes and were not happy about it. Teachers in some districts were encouraging large groups of students to miss school to attend the extended protest, despite the directives of their employers requiring them to return to their classrooms. Video of and news articles about teachers lashing out at their school boards for demanding teachers honor their contracts and return to work left a sour taste in the mouths of Oklahomans who work each day, rain, shine or sickness. These weren’t the words or actions of teachers of a generation ago. Even a positive step forward for public education, like a substantial raise for classroom teachers and a greater likelihood of retaining quality educators, ended with parents wondering who they could trust with their children and their children’s education.
The Steal Team Steps Up for Re-election
As we learned in Season Three, Oklahoma County DA David Prater, in 2017, not only dropped all charges against Hofmeister and her co-conspirators related to the dark money collusion that swept her into the State Superintendent’s office, with no explanation, but did his best to ensure her re-election. After leaving the state waiting for his “follow up” on new information in the case, he made a public statement of support for Hofmeister to do as much as possible to dispel the remaining public doubt about her innocence. No follow up. No explanation of the damning evidence previously made public in the affidavit of probable cause back in 2016. Just love for Hofmeister.
What happens when offenders don’t pay consequences? They come back for more. During Hofmeister’s 2018 re-election campaign, the core of her 2014 Steal Team was back for a reunion, though everyone had enough common sense to at least change their outer covering, except Hofmeister. She was still in a skirt suit. With the stench of the previous cycle’s felony charges still wafting in the air, there were some strategic name changes for the firms supporting Hofmeister’s re-election efforts, along with some very shady bill-paying practices.
More than three years after her 2014 election victory, in December of 2017, Hofmeister began paying AH Strategies, the political consulting firm operated by Fount Holland and Trebor Worthen, with new donations from her re-election campaign for what appear to be much belated expenses from her previous campaign. OEC submissions related to Hofmeister’s 2014 campaign show AH Strategies being paid a total of $167,615.59, with a final payment of $1,200 distributed in late February of 2016.
From Hofmeister’s new committee for her 2018 re-election campaign, AH Strategies then collects $33,169.98 from Hofmeister during December of 2017, including $17,218.49 in bonuses for Hofmeister’s 2014 primary and general election wins. Then, AH Strategies and its production arm, Majority Designs, go dark. You’d think the Oklahoma Ethics Commission would notice that Hofmeister was playing crooked accountant, as she should have reported all of her previous campaign expenses appropriately rather than forwarding them ahead three years into a different committee. If you’ll remember Oklahoma County Chief Investigator Gary Eastridge’s revelation about multiple candidates reporting almost extortion-like tactics by a handful of political consultants against candidates for public office in Oklahoma, you have to wonder if this shifty group had Hofmeister by the secrets and continued to demand more money to keep her in office.
Even after facing felony charges with a member of this group, six months later, in the spring of 2018, Hofmeister begins paying both James Martin Company, LLC, and Marathon Consulting for strategic consulting and fundraising activities. It sounded like Hofmeister was cleaning up her act and getting better, more ethical, or at least different, advisement on her re-election campaign, except she wasn’t doing any such thing. Marathon Consulting was just the new and not improved AH Strategies, operated once again by Trebor Worthen, but this time featuring the return of AH Strategies founding partner Karl Ahlgren, a known “smear merchant” within Oklahoma politics. Fount Holland was bounced, at least for the moment. Who knows? Holland may have actually been behind the curtain during 2018, handling dark money in support of Hofmeister’s re-election. Voters aren’t allowed to know that.
It appears that the boys at AH Strategies needed to at least temporarily and publically distance themselves from Holland and his charges, as if Worthen had been any less involved in the Hofmeister dark money scheme of 2014. Worthen’s wife Jenna also got a makeover, becoming James Martin Company and sticking with Hofmeister. Perhaps they had some great family counseling because the Steal Team never left Hofmeister’s side, even when she paid them three years late.
It was during this time that Hofmeister does something very telling about her personality. She begins to pay herself back for “debt from prior committee” from funds donated to support her re-election campaign. In total, Hofmeister pays herself $19,000 from her 2018 re-election campaign to offset her reported personal loan of $50,196.08 to her previous, 2014 committee. In addition, at the end of her re-election campaign, she forwarded $5,217.71 to her 2022 election committee. More on that development is forthcoming.
Who’s donated money was Hofmeister playing accounting games and paying herself back with? The list of contributors to her public-facing, 2018 re-election campaign includes mostly the predictable. Of course, her billionaire defense fund fellows were back, as well as politicians galore, education union leaders, a bunch of school superintendents, several tribal nations and representation from key industries, including banking/finance, medical, insurance and higher education. All were lined up to put money in Hofmeister’s campaign box. Highlights of Hofmeister’s re-election campaign donors include:
More than 60 public school superintendents and administrators, with many giving multiple times.
Representatives from all major funders of Hofmeister’s previous dark money group Oklahomans for Public School Excellence (OPSE):
Multiple executives from American Fidelity Assurance including Gary Tredway and William Cameron.
Multiple executives and staff members from the education administrators’ union CCOSA (Pamela Deering, Ryan Owens, Mary Branch, Gracie Branch, Susan Brooks, Andrea Kunkel, Vickie Beth Williams) as well as CCOSA lobbyist Megan Benn.
The teachers’ union OEA through its PAC Oklahoma Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education.
Shawn Himes from the school board association OSSBA.
All major contributors to the Joy Hofmeister Defense Fund, with many contributing the maximum allowable amount to all three elections (primary, runoff, and general):
H.E. Rainbolt – BancFirst Chairman. Gave max allowable $8,100. David Rainbolt also gave $3,700.
Stacy Schusterman – Billionaire head of her parents’ Schusterman Family Foundation. Gave max allowable $8,100.
George Kaiser – Chairman BOK Financial Corporation. Gave $5,000. Kaiser- Francis Oil Executives donated an additional $9,900 and BOK PAC gave $2,500.
Daniel, Daryl and Julie Christner – Owner/operators of John Christner Trucking. Gave $7,600.
Michael (and Deborah) Baab - Former Paragon Films owner. Gave max allowable $16,200.
Chad and Charis Richison – Paycom founder. Gave $5,400.
Multiple politicians, former office holders and candidates from both political parties. Genter (R-State DA candidate) & Wendy Drummond, Sandy Garrett (D-Former State Superintendent), Kirk Humphreys (R-former Oklahoma City mayor), Tim Downing (R-State House of Representatives), Jeanie McDaniel (D-former State House Representatives) & Roger Ford (R-former State House Representatives), Katharine Henke (R-State House candidate).
The Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Muscogee Creek Indian Nations.
Executives from EPIC Charter School David and Kristin Chaney, Ben Harris and Josh Brock – Gave $34,299.09 including in-kind contribution of $1,003.09 for food and beverage at a fundraising event.
Phil and Joan Albert – Pelco Structural president and former OU Board of Regents member currently facing a $7.4 million embezzlement case brought by Pelco Structural founder Phil Parduhn. Gave $5,400.
A New Term and a New Target for the Team
With DA Prater having publicly, if not factually, wiped Hofmeister’s criminal slate clean, and her dark money conspirators, minus Fount Holland, remaining in her corner, Hofmeister was re-elected in 2018 as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Once re-elected and released, though definitely not exonerated of previous charges, you could almost audibly hear Eminem say, “Will the real Joy Hofmeister please stand up?” And she did. Perhaps she might have planned a more subtle striptease of her Republican costume, but the entrance of a new people’s representative brought urgent messages from her union choreographers that it was time to dance left.
While Hofmeister was being re-elected, newcomer to politics Kevin Stitt won the governor’s race. A relative unknown, Stitt was a successful job creator and businessman, resume lines typical politicians and bureaucrats don’t have and do not welcome into their sphere of control. The establishment of false conservatism did its very best to thwart Stitt’s victory by bringing out one of their most loyal, media darlings turned politician to primary Stitt out of the governor’s race but failed.
Mick Cornett is a 20-year, local news personality who covered politics in Oklahoma up until 1999, at which time he was richly rewarded by the establishment. He entered the Steal Cycle as an Oklahoma City councilman and was swiftly supported to the office of mayor of OKC in 2004. Everything around Cornett feels back-scratchy. Not one to see himself as having ever reached a position deserving of his on-camera awesomeness, Cornett immediately began running for US Congress, but was defeated in the 2006 election by Mary Fallin in her stint between lieutenant and actual governor.
Don’t feel bad for Microphone Mick, as he continued as mayor of OKC and rarely met a conflict of interest he didn’t feel comfortable with. While mayor, Cornett moonlighted, or daylighted, as Executive Vice President of Ackerman McQueen advertising agency from 2009 to 2011 and was named “Ad Man of the Year” in 2010 by the Oklahoma Ad Club. If you run into him, he’ll freely tell you he was responsible for bringing the NBA and hundreds of millions in “MAPS” infrastructure projects to Oklahoma City, but don’t ask for a full financial explanation of the arrangement.
Cornett became the longest serving mayor in the city’s history (2004-2018) but declined to run for re-election in 2018 to sub in as the overlords’ “Republican” candidate for governor. It appeared the voters may actually have a real chance at representation with Stitt, and they needed a heavy hitter to knock him out. In the early primary, Cornett came out on top with only 29% of the vote, thus prompting a required runoff primary that most media predicted would fall in Cornett’s favor. Despite dark money commercials working against Stitt that Cornett was not interested in speaking publicly about, when the media smoke cleared, Stitt garnered 54.6% of the Republican vote, defeating the establishment’s all-star, and becoming the Republican nominee for governor.
Stitt went on to defeat another deeply entrenched establishment candidate in former State District Attorney Drew Edmonson (D) during the general election, becoming governor and perhaps the biggest, collective target ever in the history of the unholy alliance between Oklahoma media and its politicrats. For those of you not from Oklahoma, this was very much a state-level parallel to the Trump 2016 win and the establishment was having an Oklahoma-sized cow.
Ironically, Stitt, like Hofmeister, hails from Jenks, Oklahoma, a wealthy suburb of Tulsa. Stitt, however, represents a parallel Jenks universe of self-made business owners and church-going homeschoolers who are passionate about the rights of families to make their own decisions for their children. You can see why he immediately pushed the buttons of the public-school establishment and political control freaks. Stitt speaks little, works hard, and always seems to land on the personal freedoms side of any given issue. The thickening political elite immediately began putting up resistance to Stitt’s agenda in all areas of the government. In education, Joy Hofmeister was their girl.
From his inauguration day, Governor Stitt believed taxpayers trapped to failing schools should be able to seek better options for their children, including private and faith-based schools, and be allowed to take the approximately $10,000 per student in public funding with them. Perhaps a little free-market competition might motivate public schools to earn their customers instead of feeling entitled to people’s children and their tax money, no matter how badly they might perform. It’s not that crazy of an idea unless you’re Hofmeister or an education union leader at a podium.
Stitt went straight to work and the Steal Team Leader, from her office at the State Department of Education, was again ready and willing to kick up the dust around him as assigned by her handlers. In response to a new, more sincerely conservative governor, Hofmeister worked to ensure the local media remained firmly on her side.
Hofmeister and Her Billionaire Backer Move into Public Television
In November of 2018, Hofmeister assisted in forming the non-profit Friends of OETA, Inc., along with Polly Anderson, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), in support of the local public broadcasting station’s ability to bring in funding. Oddly, this entity was formed two months prior to a vote by the OETA board of directors cutting ties with its previous funding organization, the OETA Foundation, and five months prior to OETA reaching a settlement on the matter with the OETA Foundation.
It’s unclear how Polly Anderson and Joy Hofmeister so quickly became allies, since Anderson came to OETA, under questionable circumstances, just a year prior to the formation of Friends of OETA. It appears Anderson filled the missing vacancy in Hofmeister’s Mean Girls group as left by Ryan Owens’ defection from the Steal Team in Season Three of How to Steal a State. In 2015, Anderson was placed on administrative leave and later executed a separation agreement from her position as executive director of the University of Central Florida’s public television station over accusations of insubordination, creating a toxic work environment and using her position to obtain an outside board position for personal gain, details that were not disclosed to the OETA Foundation prior to Anderson’s hiring by OETA. A lawsuit ensued between the entities, ultimately leading to the organizations dissolving their long-time partnership, and creating an opportunity for Hofmeister and her increasingly favorite backer.
The Friends of OETA represents the tightly knit, local world of political, higher education, business and media elitists in Oklahoma. A glance at the current list of board members for the organization shows political grifters like Glenn Coffee, the attorney and political advisor who recommended Chad Alexander to Hofmeister for coordination of her dark money (IE) organization back in 2013-14, as well as lifetime non-profit nomads, media personalities and education establishment mainstays.
Friends of OETA board president, Robert Spinks, is the Nonprofit Leader specializing in Criminal Justice at Oklahoma City University, which hints that local public broadcasting is no longer focused on simply teaching your kids their ABCs. PBS has come under national criticism for using public funds to promote biased news pieces, the woke ideologies of Black Lives Matters and the ever-changing LGBT groups, as well as child-inappropriate content within their shows for children. Hofmeister was helpful in ensuring OETA stays flush with funds.
Low and behold, in May of 2020, shortly after Hofmeister became the board chair of Friends of OETA, her faithful billionaire funders, Chad and Charis Richison of Paycom, “out of the blue” just happened to contact Hofmeister with a $1 million “unrestricted” gift to the Friends of OETA. Now practicing manipulanthropy through their Richison Family Foundation, Chad and Charis, through Hofmeister and her newly formed funding arm of OETA, had gained influence over the airways and OETA’s lineup of educational programming. Citing the need for programming to enhance distance learning during the pandemic, as formulated in partnership with the OSDE and their plan to keep schools closed for the foreseeable future, Hofmeister took a PR victory lap.
The Richison’s, with their late donation to Hofmeister’s legal defense fund, their generous support of her re-election campaign, and now their donation to OETA, were practically following Joy Hofmeister around with a basketful of money. You’ll soon hear much more about Chad Richison, his wife’s efforts to purchase influence over Oklahoma City Public Education and his desire to control the lives of all Oklahomans during the pandemic.
Hofmeister would need plenty of media support in the coming months. As all slippery politicians must do from time to time, when the winds of public opinion threaten and the podium persona must be preserved, Hofmeister was about to perform a harsh pivot on one of her most generous campaign funders. Hofmeister frequently talked in education-speak generalities about “the work” and how important and needed it was, but somewhere in the talking she forgot to do her actual work of managing the basic functions of the State Department of Education. That work was found lacking, a financial scandal was brewing and Hofmeister would need someone upon which to deflect blame.
Before we jump into this EPIC saga, it’s necessary to understand the basic functions of the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), directed by Hofmeister since January of 2015, and some escalating trends in public school enrollment. It will also be necessary to revive Oklahoma County DA David Prater and briefly explore his relationship to Oklahoma’s former, state-level DA Mike Hunter.
As explained in Season One of How to Steal a State, the OSDE has little actual power and is governed directly by the State Board of Education. Oklahoma is a ‘local control’ state, meaning the power to make decisions related to public education lies within local communities, not within state or federal agencies. This structure acknowledges that those closest to children and their local communities are best equipped to make decisions about local schools and how they best operate. Local control also allows parents, who elect their local school board members, much closer influence and input about policy and curriculum within their children’s schools.
Within this structure, the OSDE becomes primarily a passthrough for both state and federal education funding. They are the accountants and auditors that are responsible for ensuring funds are being used according to law and making the basics of that information available to the public. It really should be that simple, but as governmental agencies often do, the OSDE attempts to exert greater control over local districts by adding layers of policy and regulation, often based on their interpretation or reinterpretation of state and federal funding legislation. Frequently referred to as “guidance”, which would be necessary to inform districts about appropriate use of funding, the OSDE is consistently setting additional rules for local districts beyond what is required.
Somewhere during her tenure, while focused on and being praised for improving the relationship between the OSDE and the education establishment, Hofmeister appears to have forgotten her role as chief auditor of those same public school districts and administrators, particularly concerning EPIC Charter Schools (EPIC), a free, public, online school serving Pre-K through 12th grade students. Given Ben Harris and Josh Brock, founders of EPIC, were consistent donors to Hofmeister’s campaigns, perhaps she wasn’t too motivated to keep an eye on them during her first term. Unfortunately for Hofmeister, as she began her second term as State Superintendent, others were actively watching EPIC, but for differing reasons.
Establishing virtual services in 2010, superintendents and school districts across Oklahoma had no issue with EPIC early on. EPIC took some troubled kids who were unsuccessful in traditional schooling off their hands and out of their testing stats. It was a win-win, until EPIC began attracting thousands of families. With public school performance in Oklahoma showing no signs of improvement, greater numbers of desperate parents were choosing to pull their children out of failing neighborhood schools and place them in virtual academies. In a very short time, EPIC began a rapid ascent toward becoming the state’s largest school district. Parents were numb to the endless promises of public-school improvement and were voting with their feet.
Traditionally, families choosing private schooling over failing local schools had been a welcome occurrence in public education. You take your kids elsewhere and we keep the funding. EPIC, however, represented a challenge for funding like other charter schools, which the education establishment works vehemently to thwart. With EPIC qualifying as a public school, the money was leaving brick-and-mortar districts with the now tens of thousands of Oklahoma children enrolled in EPIC services, and public education insiders were not happy.
Lower income parents in most parts of the state had never had an option until EPIC. These families are the cash cow public schools refuse to let loose. By the 2017-18 school year, EPIC was pulling over $60 million annually in state aid, which represented 44% of all public aid to charter schools in the state. By 2020, EPIC was the largest school district in the state, charter or otherwise, with nearly 40,000 students enrolled. In just ten years, more parents were choosing EPIC virtual and blended services over any other district in the state. This was a mass exodus by a perpetually silenced and frustrated parent base.
Instead of finding a mirror and seeking to correct the failures of the public schools families were running away from, public school leaders immediately and continuously attacked and investigated EPIC and pushed for greater regulation for all charters in the state. While the investigation will show that EPIC’s enrollment practices warranted investigation and correction, the politicrats were only willing to engage in that side of the conversation, and only after others revealed the OSDE was not adequately performing its regulatory duties. No one dared ask why parents were walking away from traditional public schooling and toward EPIC, even after the investigation became public.
Despite being more than willing to take EPIC’s money during her past two campaign cycles, Hofmeister knew her political bread was buttered by the education unions and gladly pig piled on EPIC, as if she’d been watching them suspiciously for years. EPIC, and all charters in Oklahoma, was now firmly chained in public education purgatory along with vouchers and performance-based pay for teachers, proposals continuously blocked by the unions as unthinkable lifeboats for families drowning in underperforming school districts.
The message was clear. Hofmeister and the education establishment would fight tooth and nail to prevent the kids who most need educational options from having any options whatsoever. Those children and the money attached to them would stay in failing schools, and that’s a union order. Remember that war cry, as it’s an ever-present theme in this tale of centralizing power and control.
Who else had been watching EPIC Charter Schools? As Hofmeister happily collected political contributions from EPIC’s leadership, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) had been busy with its own investigation of EPIC Charter Schools and their structure for some time. In 2019, the OSBI issued search warrants to explore EPIC’s enrollment practices and leadership structure. It appears EPIC had a significant number of “ghost students”, private and home school students concurrently enrolled with EPIC, who were channeling the per student funding for public school to EPIC without receiving full public-school services. EPIC was kicking some of the public funds for those students back to their parents and its teachers as incentives to keep the collections flowing.
The scandal had revealed itself, leaving taxpayers and the governor’s office asking how EPIC was able to operate in this way for several years without any oversight. Where were the checks and balances? Where was the OSDE in their primary function as the auditors and accountants? Joy Hofmeister had some explaining to do, and her version of the story just didn’t add up. Hofmeister played dumb again and claimed she wasn’t aware of the investigation during its earliest stages, having “no idea” of any issues with EPIC.
Hofmeister claimed she felt “uncomfortable” with EPIC’s donations to her campaign in 2014, though it’s difficult to understand why she would feel that way if she had truly been unaware of any improprieties on EPIC’s part. After all, EPIC is a public school district, and administrators from public school districts across the state were frequent donors to her campaigns. And if Hofmeister truly had reservations about taking money from EPIC’s founders during her 2014 campaign, why did she allow them to up their contributions during her 2018 re-election efforts? The truth is EPIC was spreading money all over Oklahoma politics, and Hofmeister’s hand was just as open as many others.
Hofmeister blamed the lack of oversight of EPIC’s finances all on the ‘system’, despite her being fully in control of the system itself. Hofmeister aimed blame at the Virtual Charter School Board, the school authorizer for virtual charter schools in the state, and Community Strategies, Inc., the non-profit governing board for EPIC, yet Hofmeister’s OSDE was confirmed to bear full responsibility for verifying enrollment related to funding for all public schools. Hofmeister claimed there was “no mechanism” for indicating a child was in private school in Oklahoma, thereby making it impossible to catch a dual enrollment in public virtual schooling. Wouldn’t it be her job, as State Superintendent, to create that mechanism so her staff could properly audit virtual charters, particularly as their enrollment began to balloon exponentially under her watch? Strangely, until the OSBI dug into EPIC and a scandal was born, no one can remember Hofmeister clamoring for a statewide enrollment mechanism. It takes time and energy to promote yourself politically and lead a team trying to take over a state, leaving no time for performing the basic and publicly expected functions of one’s current position.
The incompetent cat was out of the bureaucratic bag, prompting Governor Stitt to request an audit by the State Auditor and Inspector, not only of EPIC, but of the OSDE’s financial oversight functions in the matter. Hofmeister had little choice but to go along with Governor Stitt’s request for a higher audit of EPIC’s finances, out of the hands and above the head of the OSDE, feigning as though she also suggested the move. Politician 101. Stick to your lies and/or excuses as long as humanly possible. Perhaps the news cycle will grant you a reprieve.
Hofmeister’s conflicts concerning EPIC and her possible motivations for turning an intentionally blind eye to their accounting and enrollment practices involve far more than the significant campaign contributions EPIC executives made to both her 2014 and 2018 campaigns. Remember Hofmeister’s buddy Shelly Hickman from Season Two? Hickman, the journalist turned OSDE Press Secretary turned Norman Schools PR mouthpiece turned Stand for Children diversity advocate, who so graciously warned Hofmeister by secret email that her dark money group was being exposed all over Google, had taken yet another job. In 2017, Shelly Hickman went to work for EPIC Charter Schools and so did her lawyer husband.
And you remember Clark. Prior to being Hofmeister’s general counsel at the OSDE and working at Hickman’s law firm, he worked at the OSDE side-by-side with Shelly Hickman.
While Hofmeister should have been carefully auditing EPIC, her friend Shelly Hickman became EPIC’s Managing Director of External Affairs, as well as their Deputy Superintendent. During the same time, EPIC was separately contracting with the PR consulting agency Price Lang, for which Hickman was a Senior Consultant. Through his private practice, Hickman Law Group, Hickman’s husband was representing EPIC through multiple lawsuits related to the investigation, including his filing of a frivolous libel and slander suit against state Senator Ron Sharp that landed EPIC a $500,000 fine.
To recap, Hofmeister’s friends, the Hickman’s, were being paid by EPIC for two direct positions with EPIC, plus as their attorney, while indirectly contracting with EPIC through an outside PR firm, after EPIC made tens of millions in taxpayer dollars for students they did not fully serve because Hofmeister’s OSDE failed to properly audit their use of public funding. It seems everyone in Hofmeister’s world is profiting from EPIC, except the taxpayers of Oklahoma who got raked.
In October of 2020, State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd dropped a bomb of a Special Investigative Audit of EPIC Charter Schools that looked as bad for Hofmeister as it did for EPIC Charter Schools. The audit criticized the OSDE for ineffective financial oversight, finding its annual audit process for EPIC to be superficial and of little value, as EPIC moved $125.2 million of $458 million in public allocations over to its for-profit management company. Further, the audit found OSDE leaders to have ordered the acceptance of flawed financial submissions from EPIC, as well as other districts.
Rather than take Byrd’s findings as constructive criticism and commence “work” to improve processes at the OSDE, Hofmeister went public to dispute much of the findings, this time in a skirt suit the color of the tens of millions of tax dollars she’d allowed to fraudulently flow to EPIC for students they did not fully serve. Her excuses ran the gamut from lack of resources, district audits coming in too close to deadlines to be properly reviewed and claims the agency had never enacted consequences on any district for audit failures, so EPIC was treated no differently. If you are scanning your state for an up-and-coming thief, the use of the “we’ve always done it this way” excuse may be the litmus test, as their incompetence knows no shame.
Hofmeister’s excuses, while politically crafted to deflect immediate blame, had the damning effect of wiping years of grime off the windows of the OSDE, including the most recent five years under Hofmeister’s leadership. The fresh peek inside the agency was none too appealing, as it seemed all public-school districts had been ineffectively monitored in the spending of public funds for decades. If no school district ever faced consequences for questionable or possibly fraudulent financial practices, what else wasn’t happening inside the OSDE that should’ve been?
The EPIC audit also revived the conversation about high superintendent salaries and overall administrative costs in Oklahoma’s public schools. The state audit’s focus on the coding of salaries for public school administrators revealed the OSDE’s inability to catch when a district was going over the 5% cap for administration costs. For years, this creative coding had been sucking money out of classrooms and into the hands of superintendents and other administrators, thanks to the incompetence of the OSDE’s process and its leader’s lack of interest in enacting consequences for districts not playing by the rules with public funds. No wonder the swamp rose so menacingly to drag Barresi under in 2014. This happily broken agency had been working well for superintendents, unions, and the rest of the public education establishment for as long as anyone could remember. Just smile, keep the money flowing freely, and we’ll all get along.
Unfortunately for Hofmeister, she would not be getting any help in keeping the EPIC scandal on the down low from her old friend, Oklahoma County DA David Prater, and the law enforcement and prosecution side, at least for a while. Remember Prater’s wife Tamara Pratt-Prater, from Season Three? Pratt-Prater is the local news anchor turned terrorism expert who ended up with the cushy job at Rose State College when the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) dissolved in 2015 and she lost her well-paid position as its Deputy Director. As the OSBI was completing its investigation into EPIC, talk began to brew about State Attorney General Mike Hunter and David Prater slow-walking the matter due to Pratt-Prater’s continued employment at Rose State College, the “school authorizer” for EPIC Blended. Community Strategies, Inc., the non-profit governing board and oversight for both EPIC and EPIC Blended, contracted with Rose State College to operate Epic Blended Charter School for students in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.
The media unsuccessfully did its best to minimize any foot-dragging, as DA Prater fought to hold on to the EPIC case. Under pressure due to the conflict of interest presented by his wife’s position at Rose State, Prater was forced to hand the matter from his county’s jurisdiction to that of the state-level DA, Mike Hunter. At the time, the move still gave Prater considerable influence, if not control, due to his relationship with Mike Hunter. The two have been known to make similar hand-offs, wink-wink, when publicly necessary. Prater likely felt comfortable pitching to Hunter while retaining his ability to assist Hofmeister with the spin about EPIC, until Hunter faced his own scandal over a marital affair and resigned as the state’s district attorney in May of 2021. Don’t fret for the Prater-Hofmeister relationship, as Prater will make a future play to take back control of the EPIC case and public narrative, just in time for Hofmeister’s next campaign. More on that in Season Five of How to Steal a State.
At this point, Governor Stitt’s “let’s get to the bottom of this together” approach ended. In September of 2021, in light of the lack of early intervention by Hofmeister and the OSDE related to EPIC, and at the request of 22 state lawmakers, Stitt called for a full audit of the OSDE and its auditing practices for all school districts. A somewhat similar scandal at the Oklahoma State Health Department involving the misuse of $30 million dollars proved skipping full audits of state agency’s to be a big mistake, as internal processes and safeguards are often non-existent within Oklahoma’s largest bureaucracies.
Despite her agency’s recently exposed shortcomings and the fact that all state agency’s are supposed to be audited at some point, Hofmeister called the ordered audit an “attack” on Oklahoma’s public education system. It sounds reminiscent of those with common sense questions about new medical technologies being accused of an “attack on science”, doesn’t it? Hofmeister is not a fan of accountability, for schools and especially for herself.
Under some well-earned scrutiny and under audit, Hofmeister continued to clash with Governor Stitt whenever possible and a pandemic revealed just how opposed she and her union masters were to his nasty habit of protecting personal liberties and parents’ God-given rights to make the decisions that impact their children.
Pandemic Politics Led by Union Generals
In March of 2020, as Oklahoma public schools embarked on what was to be a two-week closure to ‘slow the spread’ of Covid-19, Joy Hofmeister swore a silent, faithful and never-ending allegiance to follow the CDC, the ‘science’, and the teachers’ unions, quickly moving to close schools indefinitely and cancelling state testing.
In hindsight, after two years of observing reality and returning to logic, Americans now recognize it was actually the teachers’ unions directing the CDC to adjust the ‘science’, and government using schools as a tool to close entire communities. It was then that all of America became aware that public education is the central cog in the machine that drives not just the long-term outcome of our society, but its daily ability to function at the most basic level. When school is closed, many parents can’t work, many businesses and services can’t function, and our world grinds to a depressing halt.
As pandemic insanity swelled, Hofmeister played the careful passive-aggressive, grabbing every opportunity the media gladly provided to take jabs at the legislature and Governor Kevin Stitt’s efforts to keep decisions about masks and vaccines in the hands of individuals and parents. Hofmeister and the teachers’ union (OEA), supported a statewide mandate to mask children in schools and frequently referred to the coming vaccine as the key to stabilizing school services. Hofmeister’s video message to teachers at the end of 2020 illustrates her commitment to masking and the new vaccine, because “science confirms”.
When the legislature passed SB 658, which banned mask mandates unless the governor specifically declares a state of emergency, and Governor Stitt signed the bill into law, the OEA went on a PR tour to declare the 2021-22 school year “unsustainable” unless schools, not parents, regained control of masking decisions. Hofmeister praised a temporary court injunction against the implementation of SB 658 and against parents’ ability to decide whether or not their child wore a mask at school. With each attempt to return power and decision-making to the citizens, Stitt became a larger target for every control-thirsty bureaucrat in the state.
One look at the State Department of Education’s “Covid-19 Resources & FAQs” page shows, deep down inside, what a dream the pandemic was for the self-inflated and control seeking Steal Team. Still prominently featured and updated on the OSDE’s home page, two years later, the link is a timeline of the never-ending and ever-expanding stream of ‘guidance’ schools have been expected to follow during the pandemic. It reads like an encouragement manual for closing schools frequently and masking students indefinitely.
To their credit, and in thanks to the local control structure of education in Oklahoma, many rural districts knew kids needed to be in school and opened back up in August of 2020, despite the gloomy guidance. The CDC-inspired protocols districts were expected to follow to keep school doors open, many of which have now been proven ineffective and even harmful to children, were extensive. Teachers were exhausted, but most rural kids were in school, fed and supervised during that time. Kudos to much of rural Oklahoma for making their own decisions, despite union pressure.
Things looked much different in the biggest, most urban districts, such as Tulsa, where the school board consists of George Kaiser’s employees, teachers union presidents, non-profit staff, several teachers and PhDs like Dr. Jerry Griffin, who claimed for weeks from his hospital bed that vaccines kept him from serious Covid illness. Since the teacher walkouts of 2018, Oklahoma and the nation have experienced a wave of teacher advocates who believe they adequately represent the wishes of all parents concerning public education because they happen to also be parents. Many of these teachers in Oklahoma, with the help of the OEA, have secured seats in the state legislature and on local school boards.
Nationwide and locally, these teacher-activists protested the start of school and packed many school board meetings with no recognition that their status as teachers presents a very real conflict of interest. After all, how likely would you be to advocate to keep schools open if you really wanted schools closed so you could be home with your own children during a pandemic? Social media threads between teachers were revealing during 2020, as many expressed being happy school was out, enjoying being home, disliking their jobs at school and sometimes their students, and being frustrated with the public education system, occasionally in language not traditionally associated with teachers. Perhaps that’s why the focus in most larger districts was primarily on adult safety, as the adults were the squeaky wheel getting all the grease while children and their non-teacher parents had no voice.
Most big districts failed to open schools for in-person learning as scheduled in August of 2020, despite the data for virtual learning in the spring being dismal. In Tulsa, students participated in an average of only six of 35 days (17%) of spring 2020 virtual school. Nevertheless, it was just too dangerous for teachers and students to be in the same space. Everyone would have to wait until the much touted vaccines were available, as supported by Hofmeister’s frequent releases and media appearances claiming the vaccines would “mitigate spread”, which they were never capable of doing.
Oddly, upon deciding not to reopen schools in the fall of 2020, large districts like Tulsa, Edmond and Oklahoma City had no problem putting out the call for churches and non-profits to open their doors to children with working parents who were in need of supervision, access to wifi to complete online assignments and tutoring to compensate for the absence of in-person instruction. Apparently, the virus wasn’t allowed to enter those institutions in the way it was so drawn to public schools. The media applauded the efforts of these NGOs, never mentioning the hypocrisy in the message that adults and children could safely gather, just not at school. Nowhere in Hofmeister’s guidance will you find information about how nearly non-existent the risk of serious Covid-19 disease is for children and how unlikely young children are to spread Covid-19. Quite the opposite.
Hofmeister was the messenger of Covid fear, leaving Stitt to carry the message of logic, resilience, and facts. In July of 2020, Hofmeister and the local media exploited the death of the first, school-aged child in Oklahoma to die with Covid to stoke fear and insist on the masking of children, while leaving out the most pertinent details about the child’s medical history and overall risk related to Covid. Anna Belle Carter, the beautiful, 13-year-old daughter of a military family stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton, lost her battle with diffuse schleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease, on July 10, 2020. Anna loved her dance team, traveled the country, lived overseas with her loving family, and did not live in fear. Shame on anyone who would use this precious child’s inspiring story and her family’s unthinkable loss to lead parents to carry unrealistic fears about their own children’s risk of serious illness associated with Covid. The desire for power and control knows no shame or decency.
Paycom’s Pandemic Power Play
The big money in Oklahoma backed up the messages of fear, feeling somehow qualified to give Oklahomans a bevy of directives concerning lockdowns, vaccines, and all matters medical. And guess who was front and center during the pandemic? Chad Richison. The CEO/founder of Paycom, one of Hofmeister’s most faithful political funders and now benefactor of public television in the state is an example of this power-grabbing arrogance and loud-mouthed overreaching by the wealthiest Oklahomans. As if having billions of dollars isn’t enough, Richison now wanted to run the state in CCP fashion.
As soon as Hofmeister closed schools in March of 2020, Richison felt it necessary to advise and criticize Governor Stitt for not overreaching his powers. Richison publicly released a communication addressed to Governor Stitt urging the state government to close in-person businesses, mandate practices for essential activities, and ban non-essential travel.
Imagine the self-important frustration of the billionaire owner of a mega-online corporation when Stitt continued to protect the rights of citizens to assess their own risks and operate their small, in-person businesses so they could feed their families. Richison had purchased Hofmeister, but Stitt did not appear to be for sale.
Undeterred, Oklahoma’s newest Tech Tyrant went to the local media in 2021 to push his mask mandate fetish on everyone’s children, despite the state legislature passing State Bill 658 which made mask mandates illegal. Of course, Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent Sean McDaniel backed Richison’s position with gusto, claiming a sharp rise in Covid cases among students, as he carefully stuffed the $1 million Richison’s wife Charis provided his district’s foundation arm for Covid relief into his suit pocket. McDaniel, with a total annual compensation package of $264,000 (2019), is the state’s highest paid superintendent, and the pandemic had him running with the big dogs and doing their bidding.
Richison, orginally from Tuttle, a rural community Southwest of Oklahoma City, earned a degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma and used his entrepreneurial traits and the business-friendly environment in Oklahoma to start and grow Paycom, now the largest online payroll and HR services company in the country. Known previously for contributing to local charitable efforts, Richison’s giving shifted in tone as the pandemic began, coinciding with his sign-on to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge with his focus on mental health issues. Like Bill Gates, Richison quickly developed a serious case of CEO syndrome, a fixation on controlling and masking everyone in the state, and a sociopathic belief that his online payroll business and his billions gave him the right to manage everyone. Richison, who was raised in salt-of-the-earth, small town Oklahoma, had gotten too big for his Tuttle britches, and may not be the best benefactor for championing mental health in Oklahoma. And in keeping with Gates’ pattern, Richison’s manipulanthropy will quickly accelerate and take a very sharp left during Season Five of How to Steal a State.
Purposeful Pandemic Panic and Vax Pressure for Parents
In thinking about the pandemic response in education and the lockstep that public schools, government agencies, and local oligarchs quickly fell into, it’s important to recognize that teachers, politicians, and billionaires often have a great deal in common. They all tend to value control and are accustomed to being the ones standing up, making decisions for everyone, as all others sit silently and take it.
As these tendencies entered the Covid pandemic and things felt out of control, very few education leaders in Oklahoma kept their heads, sought balanced information, and made rational decisions. Few educators were able to learn during this time, particularly in the biggest, most progressive communities. They clung to the CDC, no matter how often the passage of time proved their guidance to be faulty. From the beginning of the pandemic, teachers across the nation were well aware that most students were not attending online classes, even when required to do so.
In their anxiety and panic, completely induced by actors parading as leaders and hysterical media personalities, the grownups in education were mind-wiped, completely forgetting their responsibility to maintain a safe and reassuring educational environment for developing young minds. The heaviest of topics related to health, illness and death were discussed and pressed upon the youngest of students, with visual reminders of a highly exaggerated risk, particularly for children, built into every hour of every school day.
Gone were the days when big people wait until little people are out of earshot to discuss the scary or threatening. The school day, if there was one, looked more like a detention camp than a place kids would want to be. It’s worth watching Hofmeister’s 2020 video message to teachers one more time, this time with a focus on the body language of the masked children in classrooms. No one, including Hofmeister, seemed to notice the kids look miserable, as praise is heaped on the adults.
Children were being harmed, prompting parents to wonder whether this campaign of panic was necessary or strategic. Many had been observing the politicization of public education through Zoom and Google Classroom. As educators through the NEA were supporting and praising an actual risk to youth as the BLM riots occurred during the summer of 2020, parental instincts were colliding with current events, leaving greater skepticism about the new and undeclared objectives of public education.
Hofmeister remained the calculated politician, avoiding any direct comment about the BLM riots or the organization’s questionable yet stated objectives, such as to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”, that might reveal her progressive views to Oklahoma’s more conservative majority of voters. Hofmeister opted to use the kids on her Student Advisory Council to advance the ‘systemic racism’ narrative, leaving her one step removed from any potential, career-damaging quotes.
More than a year into the pandemic, Hofmeister remained fixated upon vaccines as the only viable strategy for stabilizing public education in Oklahoma. She was now focused on vaccinating children and clear in her desire for all school children to remain masked in schools “out of an abundance of caution”, even after more than a year.
“If Oklahoma kids are to have a shot at a school year approaching normalcy…then we all need to have a shot of our own,” wrote Hofmeister in an August 2021 release.
She dramatically dangled “in-person classrooms” to the public with the caveat of “making sure that eligible school-age students” get vaccinated.
Pushback for Progressive Teaching
Families struggled as Oklahoma schools fluctuated between virtual and in-person services, as the OSDE, county officials and the local news media lived by Covid case counts and worst-case scenarios. Ironically, just as Hofmeister’s EPIC excuses had wiped the grime off the OSDE’s incompetent windows, virtual learning cleared the view of parents and caregivers into their children’s classrooms, teachers and curriculums.
Prior to the pandemic, older students, such as a high school student in Norman, occasionally captured and released video of radical teachers pushing the unapproved tenants of Critical Race Theory (CRT) within classrooms, but most thought these rebel teachers were few and far between. With classes piping into homes under the watchful eyes of parents, the bubble burst, prompting families to discover many classrooms had become political and ideologic indoctrination centers. Once again, battle lines were drawn placing parents’ rights on one side, with Governor Stitt as captain, and teachers’ groups on the other, with Hofmeister firmly supporting them.
As the National School Boards Association (NSBA) called on President Biden to have opponents of CRT (parents voicing concern at local board meetings) investigated and prosecuted as “terrorists” without any supporting evidence or credible claims of harm, Oklahoma parents urged state lawmakers to act. House Bill 1775 was signed into law by Governor Stitt in May of 2021. The measure states:
“no teacher shall require or make part of a course that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex”. HB 1775 also prohibits mandatory “gender or sexual diversity training or counseling” or “orientation or requirement that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex” on Oklahoma college campuses.
Opponents, including teachers unions (NEA and OEA), claimed the bill banned teaching students about historical events, including the Tulsa Race Riots, though both organizations later admitted the law did not ban teaching any specific history.
Laws without corresponding regulations for those who carry out the laws tend to be ineffective. Hofmeister, who again aligned with the OEA on CRT in schools, was responsible for leading the State Board of Education in drafting these directives for Oklahoma public schools as they implemented the new law. The law took effect on July 1, 2021, in the absence of corresponding rules from Hofmeister and the board.
Schools were left with no regulations to follow, leaving them free to ignore the new law and even continue to contract with outside providers to teach CRT principles. Hofmeister’s OSDE, which typically flows with overly abundant “guidance” on other education matters, could not seem to provide any directives for ending CRT in classrooms. On July 12th, the state board voted on rules for HB 1775 that were later retracted due to errors, leaving Hofmeister blaming “scrivener’s errors” and a “rushed and unorthodox process” for the botch job. Local media noted Hofmeister’s bureaucratic incompetence in the matter.
In November of 2021, when it appeared Hofmeister was slow-walking the needed corrections to the regulations, a group of more than two dozen state lawmakers publicly called upon Hofmeister, as part of her real job, to present the rules for the implementation of the new law within Oklahoma public schools. As proof of Hofmeister’s consistency, when it comes to the most basic of her duties as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the odds are she’ll fumble. In this case, the OEA liked it that way, as CRT was alive and well in Oklahoma during the delay.
Permanent rules guiding schools on HB 1775 finally passed by vote of the State Board of Education in March of 2022, more than eight months after the law went into effect. And if you’re wondering if Hofmeister the Republican actually, secretly wishes for CRT and its principles to be taught in public schools, her emphatic answer is “yes”, according to a recent candidate questionnaire, because it is “somewhat important”. It’s all part of the steal.
Birds of an Unethical Feather Bureaucrat Together
The incompetence of the OSDE under Hofmeister and the agency’s consistently political decision-making patterns concerning public education may have a great deal to do with Hofmeister’s team-building and hiring approach. Hofmeister, like her dark money billionaire backers, notices, supports and promotes employees who show a willingness to bend ethical rules to do her bidding. Case in point, meet Carrie Burkhart. Burkhart was hired on within the Communications Department at the OSDE during the pandemic as assistant executive director to Hofmeister donor Steffie Corcoran, then executive director of the department.
As teachers and the unions pressured districts to continue virtual instruction during the pandemic, Burkhart contacted a representative on the school board of her own child’s school district by phone, as a concerned parent, to express her dissatisfaction with Moore Public Schools’ decision to reopen schools to their nearly 25,000 students. Moore PS was the exception to the big districts, choosing to give parents options for virtual learning while resuming in-person classes at all school buildings in August of 2020.
Unsatisfied with the board member’s explanation of the decision to keep schools open in Moore, made by the local board based on parent input, Burkhart then identified herself as an employee of the OSDE and expressed the OSDE’s disappointment with the district over the decision. Using your position as a government employee at the State Department of Education to privately pressure your child’s public school into changing their board policy to suit your personal preferences may seem like a breach of ethics and a conflict of interest to some, but to Hofmeister, those are usable skills. Burkhart was willing to override the voices of most parents in the district because she clearly believed she knows best and should be in control of everything. Perhaps her mindset could be used at the state level.
After being informed about the content of Burkhart’s call with the local board member, Moore PS Superintendent Robert Romines called out Burkhart’s conduct to Hofmeister publicly on a Zoom call which included Hofmeister and dozens of other district superintendents and administrators. Of course, apologies ensued, and Hofmeister promised the matter would be handled promptly. How, you ask? By immediately promoting Burkhart to Executive Director of Communications upon Corcoran’s pending retirement. This is how government becomes destined for through and through corruption. The unethical hire the unethical in perpetuity.
In her new and elevated office, Burkhart went straight to work covering Hofmeister’s tracks on a variety of issues, including surreptitious LGBT and transgender bathroom ‘best practices’ for Oklahoma schools and a non-transparent rule change to a scholarship program for students with disabilities that would exclude private religious schools. The Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities provides special needs and foster children the opportunity to attend a private school. Subject to a provision in federal law that specifically forbids discrimination within the program based on “race, color, or national origin”, Hofmeister’s team decided to update regulations for the program, in 2019, to add “religion” and “sexual orientation” as forbidden discriminatory categories. This left previously involved schools like Christian Heritage Academy and Altus Christian Academy out in the cold due to their organizational religious beliefs.
A memo from the attorney general set things straight by making it clear Hofmeister’s new regulations were illegal. The memo regarding the matter was briefly posted on the OSDE site as part of the state board meeting documents, then promptly removed five days later, as applications for LNH by faith-based schools remained stalled. When questioned by local reporter Ray Carter from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), Burkhart gladly provided cover by stating the memo was removed due to attorney-client privilege. Really? Who is the client, who is gaining privilege, and who is Hofmeister serving by pushing the AG’s memo stating her new categories for discrimination were unconstitutional out of the public’s view?
Hofmeister had found just what she wanted in Burkhart, a spin doctor with no scruples. And somehow, the agency who just could not create timely guidance for schools related to ending CRT in Oklahoma’s classrooms, as required by a new state law, could quickly come up with illegal guidance additions to exclude faith-based schools from offering a quality education to disabled and foster children. It seems Hofmeister can be efficient after all, when it serves the personal agendas of her billionaire funders.
Pandemic Profits and the Return of Student “Testing”
While the pandemic might not have gone well for Hofmeister professionally, there were some financial bright spots for her family. Hofmeister and her husband Gerald also own JLH Resources, Inc., a for-profit subchapter S corporation bearing Hofmeister’s initials (Joy Lynn Hofmeister), that was registered with the Oklahoma Secretary of State in November 2000, and collected $40,531 in forgiveness through the federal PPP Covid relief program for businesses during April of 2020. This entity holds the tradename Kumon of South Tulsa, for their franchised tutoring locations, now owned by their son, according to his LinkedIn page. It would be interesting to see whose payroll was covered by these government Covid relief funds, that of hourly tutors or that of a Hofmeister.
A review of the Kumon (Tulsa-South) Facebook page shows the Hofmeister’s locations remained open and added at-home options for their services during the pandemic. It’s unclear, with the business open, operating and expanding services, why there would be a need for free federal dollars to supplement salaries. It appears Hofmeister’s son did a very brief stint as an oil and gas landman, then on to another short try at sales, before taking over the family Kumon franchises.
In 2001, the Hofmeister’s also formed a second, similarly named for-profit corporation, JLH Supply, Inc., which was suspended by the Oklahoma Tax Commission for having “not complied with OK tax requirements”. Oddly, both corporations are registered to the address 3783 E 82st Street, in Tulsa, a personal residence that the Hofmeister’s sold in March of 2007, yet they collected more than $40,000 in payroll relief funds for a company registered to that address during the 2000 Covid pandemic.
Who else did well financially during the pandemic? School districts, non-profits, higher education, and government agencies. Oklahoma’s education systems received $338 million from the CARES Act and have spent more than $3 billion through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). Most of those funds were or are being dispersed through Hofmeister’s OSDE, with healthy administrative percentages attached. In addition, higher education in Oklahoma has surpassed the $1 billion spending mark through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. For the first time in a long time, no one was barking about a lack of funding in Oklahoma education, and Hofmeister’s group hustled to use the money to their best advantage. Given parents were frequently told Oklahoma’s education underperformance was due to funding deficits, they are logically expecting some serious improvements from their children’s schools.
With so much money flowing from the fed and so many rural schools opening their doors during the fall of 2021 in defiance of the OEA’s messaging, Hofmeister’s OSDE was busy using what dollars they could to perpetuate the false narrative that Covid was super dangerous for children and to keep the Covid case counts up, up, up. Hofmeister finally found a form of student testing she could fully embrace in the provably unreliable PCR, and the education unions were in total agreement.
Despite parents pushing back about masking and testing requirements in schools, the OSDE used $119 million in federal funds to incent districts to ramp up even more testing and Covid hysteria. Officially named the Oklahoma Schools COVID-19 Prevention Program Grant, then dubbed Project 723, the OSDE, in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), offered grants of up to $1 million per district to pay for a range of tempting expenses including salaries for additional personnel, such as school nurses, if participating schools agreed to test at least 5% of their students and staff each month, though the testing contract designates a testing goal of 2.5% of students and staff per week (10% per month). The carrot of again having nurses in schools, a luxury of the past for many districts, felt a bit like a bribe the OSDE was happy to dangle in front of superintendents.
All Covid testing kits needed to make such robust and regular testing possible in schools were provided free-of-charge through the OSDH, outside of the grant money. Of course, all testing results were required to be entered daily into the State Infection Reporting System (SIRS) for use in keeping the Covid narrative alive and front-of-mind for all Oklahomans. It’s difficult to believe the program could be useful in any other way since the Quidel QuickVue SARS Antigen rapid tests provided and required to be used under these grants funds are provably unreliable and ineffective at detecting early infection and, therefore, at limiting the spread of the virus.
The Quidel rapid test did, however, make a new billionaire out of Jack Schuler, the 7% stakeholder in Quidel Corporation who credits a 2004 meeting with Bill Gates as his springboard for philanthropy within K-12 education in Chicago. Are you seeing a trend among Schuler, Paycom’s Richison and BOK’s Kaiser? Apparently, one exposure to Bill Gate’s philanthropic plans ultra-motivates other billionaires to use their wealth to infiltrate the education of children within impoverished, urban, public schools. After nearly twenty years and millions of dollars of Schuler’s manipulanthropy, Chicago schools are steeped in harmful ideology, a 700% higher than average rate of violence and continued closures due to Covid case counts and teacher voting through the Chicago Teacher’s Union.
It’s all good for Schuler, as Chicago Public Schools’ ineptness and Covid panic led to 150,000 rapid tests being sent to families to ensure the 2022 spring term would be able to start without a hitch, if parents mailed their children’s tests back in by December 28, 2021. In the end, FedEx drop boxes overflowed with testing packages, overwhelming the carrier and delaying test processing. In all, the logjam and lack of planning caused 25,000 tests to be deemed invalid and schools did not open as scheduled. What a shame. Time to place an order for thousands of additional tests, at taxpayer expense, of course. If Project 723 doesn’t smell like another Covid scam, you should schedule an appointment with an ENT.
Nationally, this program provided $468,415,739 to ensure schools across America continued to test the least likely to spread Covid or experience serious illness, with 100 percent of funding coming through the Scientific Programs and Development Branch of the Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections within the CDC (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). With Fauci’s free money flowing to test school kids, it’s not surprising that reported Covid cases among school-aged kids in Oklahoma and across the nation increased following the program’s implementation. Children returned to school, and to regular testing through these grants, in the fall of 2021, and the media was ready to go DEFCON 1 about case counts rising two weeks later.
In Oklahoma, where school starts in mid-August, the media frenzy exploded in late August about sudden increases in school-age cases. Predictably, the fault was placed at Governor Stitt’s feet for allowing parents, not education leaders, to decide whether their children were masked at school. As a review for those of you who haven’t yet heard the union cries, testing children occasionally for academic proficiency to determine educator pay is bad but testing children continually for Covid to give educators control of when schools open or when your child’s face will be forcibly covered is good. Got it?
Hofmeister’s Report Card
Even with money in the Hofmeister family pocket and superintendents flush with federal Covid relief funds, it's safe to say the pandemic isn’t ending too well for Hofmeister and the Steal Team. A majority of voters continue to favorably rate the recent performance of both the state legislature and Governor Stitt, including their bans on the forced masking and vaccinating of children and the teaching of the most divisive tenants of Critical Race Theory. After taking reputational hits for dropping the ball on the oversight of Epic Charter Schools and the drafting of permanent rules for implementing HB 1775, what’s a still ambitious politician to do?
Hofmeister’s dark money scandals and blinding flashes of incompetence would likely be forgiven by Oklahomans if the quality of public education improved during her time in office. Sadly, the world has become conditioned to politicians being corrupt, but just an ounce of effectiveness in her leadership would at least breed some hope. So how did she do in that area?
If the state were to grade Hofmeister’s two terms, it might look something like this:
A – Podium presence;
A – Adherence to the directives of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions;
A – Improving the relationship between the OSDE and public school administrators and teachers;
F – Ability to listen to parents who are not also teachers;
F – Any measurable improvement in the quality of public-school education.
After loudly and publicly criticizing former State Superintendent Janet Barresi for Oklahoma’s dismal ranking of 41st nationally in public education quality, only to see the state freefall to 50th after seven years of her own leadership, despite now having the region’s best paid teachers, what could possibly be next for Joy Hofmeister? In 2020, Education Week put Oklahoma squarely at the bottom of all states for educational opportunity and performance. Yes, a pandemic started in 2020, but the pandemic was nationwide, and these are state-to-state rankings. In addition, Barresi’s warnings and heavy focus related to literacy appear to have been spot on. In 2019, Oklahoma 8th graders had the lowest standardized reading scores ever recorded for the state for that grade (258 of 500 possible points).
And if you think Hofmeister’s newfound wokeness helped minority or “marginalized” students, think again. With Hofmeister in office, Tulsa Public Schools, a district in which 60% of students are black or Hispanic, spends significantly more per student per year ($10,450 in 2018-19; state average $8,778) and accomplishes less than other districts (82% of students test less than proficient as a composite score; state average 67%). Based on 2019 testing of black students in Oklahoma public schools, just 17% score as proficient or better in ELA (English Language Arts) and just 14% do so in math. As a comparison, students who are identified as homeless score higher in both areas than black students. Jumping behind progressive teachers’ unions did nothing for minority students.
Hofmeister continues to highlight the new Oklahoma Academic Standards and availability of statewide pre-K services as her accomplishments, though universal pre-K has been offered in Oklahoma since 1998, more than 15 years prior to Hofmeister taking office, and the new academic standards only revealed greater national performance deficits by Oklahoma students. Neither of these efforts translated into any measurable improvement in educational scores or outcomes for children. Giving children over to Oklahoma public education earlier appears to have been detrimental to their learning. The educational indicators that matter for kids were headed in the wrong direction. Surely Hofmeister, who was reaching term limits with a dismal record of accomplishment, was on her way out of public life.
Hofmeister’s New Identity
And then something incredulous, yet somehow predictable happened. Joy Hofmeister came out, claiming she now identified as a Democrat and was running for governor in 2022. Citing Governor Stitt’s management of the pandemic as her very dramatic “breaking point”, Hofmeister, or rather her billionaire handlers, threw her somewhat dented hat in the ring for the governor’s seat. The Steal Cycle must continue and Hofmeister was still their girl. The highest office in the state. Steal complete. Game over. At least that’s the plan.
Watch out Oklahoma and anyone from other states seeking to stop the steal where you live, as the dark money and seriously committed billionaires behind Hofmeister’s ascension are about to multiply in ways that will shock even those previously numb to political corruption and hidden special interests. This time the Steal Team decided they’d need more time to smother Governor Stitt than the June 2022 Republican primary would allow, hence Hofmeister’s new political affiliation. The money behind Hofmeister’s governor’s campaign is filled with vices and liars, and Stitt will need armor of steel to persevere against the onslaught. That’s what he gets for doing something right and listening to the will of the people of his state. Don’t miss Season Five of How to Steal a State, coming soon.
From Oklahoma? Please comment and tell us what you might know or think about the attempted theft of the state.
From another state? Please comment and let us know what’s happening in your state and who’s plotting to steal the place you call home.
Subscribe for free to receive email alerts as new seasons of How to Steal a State are released each week. If you’re just joining this journey, subscribers can view past seasons of How to Steal a State on the The V1SUT Vantage home page, as well as like and comment on individual seasons.