Auditor Finds Oklahoma Allowed Outside “Special Interest” Groups To View FERPA-Protected Private Information During GEER Audit

Auditor Finds Oklahoma Allowed Outside “Special Interest” Groups To View FERPA-Protected Private Information During GEER Audit

Yesterday, (6/27/23) State Auditor and Inspector, Cindy Byrd, released the federally-mandated Single Audit of federal funds provided to Oklahoma, covering $14 BILLION dollars of expenditures.

Within the larger audit, the audit of Oklahoma’s $39.9 million portion of GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) funds has been hotly awaited after several news sources obtained records showing mismanagement of funds by award recipients (Stitt Gave Families $8 Million For School Supplies in the Pandemic; They Bought Christmas Trees, Gaming Consoles and Hundreds of TVs). Unfortunately, for Governor Stitt and then-Secretary of Education, Ryan Walters, the SAI GEER audit turned up numerous issues.

According to the press release issued by Byrd’s office;

Proper system controls were offered by the Digital Wallet vendor to limit the families’ purchases to education-related items but those controls were declined by the individual placed in charge of the BTG program. We found that 1.7 million dollars was spent on various non-educational items such as kitchen appliances, power tools, furniture and entertainment.


This, of course, is news that should be met with considerable frustration by ANY taxpayer. However, as ROPE has been advocates of student privacy since our Common Core days, we were EXTREMELY troubled to also read this in Auditor Byrd’s press release;

The outside individuals representing special interest groups requested that grant applications be customized to include two questions asking whether the student had a disability and/or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). To submit their applications, families were forced to provide their child’s personal information which was never an eligibility requirement for these awards. The State of Oklahoma failed to ensure that private information collected from families followed the guidelines of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
These outside groups were allowed to collect and view personal student information without a contract; therefore, we do not know where this personal student information is being stored or how it is being used by these outside parties.
From emails, the special interest groups also invited an outside “data scientist” to review the information collected from the BTG program.


According to the audit, “The state abdicated its responsibility to administer and oversee the GEER funds and placed outside individuals in the role of program decision-makers of the GEER award without a contract to govern their involvement.” “These individuals neither had the authority nor did they meet federal qualifications to administer or oversee these grant funds, Consequently, federal guidelines, compliance requirements and mandates to retain records were not followed.”

So the bottom line is this – a direct quote from SAI Byrd herself – again from the single audit press release;

“This was a tangled web of government agencies, non-profit organizations and non-government individuals representing special interest groups managing millions of tax dollars with no contracts and no written agreements. Sadly, millions of tax dollars were misspent because certain individuals who were put in charge of managing these programs seemingly ignored federal grant guidelines.”

So who are these “special interest groups” found to be a part of the ‘tangled web’ described by the Auditor?

Byrd’s press release did not provide names, however, an article in The Frontier describing the groups pushing ‘school choice’ in 2022 states that Every Kid Counts – the organization over which then-secretary of Education, now State Superintendent Walters presided before he was elected – was involved in distributing GEER funds and Jennifer Carter, who runs the Oklahoma Chapter of Betsy DeVos’ American Federation of Children and has her own consulting agency Libertas Consulting LLC, “also helped pass on inquiries from parents about the voucher program”.

Carter is a long fixture in Oklahoma education politics including a short tenure as former State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s Chief of Staff. She left the position after a media kerfuffle that resulted after she called Oklahoma Superintendents “dirt bags” – and while she is most probably not wrong in several cases, a better platform and terminology might have created less issue. Carter is also married to Ray Carter, essayist for the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs (OCPA).

Frontier (Audit Finds Special Interest Groups gave Oklahoma Private Schools First-Dibs On Federal Relief Money While Rejecting Poor Kids) published information indicating that Jennifer Carter was listed as a “district administrator” for the Class Wallet program which distributed federal funds to families.

I will be engaging with the SAI’s office to determine who all this “tangled web” includes over the coming weeks.

Many people repeat the term popularized by our previous president, “The Swamp”, but aren’t really sure who/what makes up “The Swamp”. In our way of thinking, “The Swamp” is a term that describes those individuals – and organizations – who either work as government influencers or government ‘policy’ makers throughout their lives, across elected officials and administrations, dealing more in the power of influence than the principles of good government.

It seems entirely possible, that the “tangled web” described by our Oklahoma SAI, may really paint a portrait of our own Oklahoma Swamp. Until that time, what we do know is that MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars have been misused and misspent in the pursuit of EDUCATION in Oklahoma and that is NOT OK.

Auditor’s Press Release

Single Federal Audit

AG Drummond request for “investigative audit of Oklahoma’s administration and expenditure of GEER funds.”