As the drama mounts for Tulsa Public Schools, those behind the decisions are under intense scrutiny.
According to campaign fundraising records, controversial Tulsa Public Schools board member E’Lena Ashley raised more than $18,700 for her run. Donors include a significant proportion of retirees and a political action committee supporting a “biblical worldview”.
Ashley is known for plugging in educational excellence and transparency while repeating ultra-conservative talking points. She uses social media often and has organized “meet and greets” paid for with campaign funds. More recently, Ashley hosted what was billed as a “community meeting” at an east Tulsa restaurant where supporters denounced “Communist China” and touted Christian values in public schools.
But many of Ashley’s boosters may not even have children enrolled in TPS. Campaign finance records show that 20% of Ashley’s individual contributions came from people self-labeled as retired.
Andy Moore, CEO of Let’s Fix This, said it undermines Oklahoma’s school system when those most directly affected by public education are not in control.
“Schools should be managed and supervised by people who are stakeholders in the system. It could be parents, grandparents. Even retired teachers and administrators, many of whom continue to volunteer or serve their school districts in myriad ways,” Moore said. “But I think what we’ve seen over the past two years is that a lot of people are more interested in politics than in strong public schools.”
Erika Wright, founder of the Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition, said politics aggressively invading school boards is a trend.
“What we’re seeing nationally, but particularly here in Oklahoma, is that the anti-public school organizations that are working so hard and spending so much money to create chaos, to destabilize things, they’re now gobbling up tons and tons of money in school board races so they can get people into those school boards so they can do exactly what’s going on in Tulsa Public Schools right now,” said Wright.
Just months after Ashley’s election, Gov. Kevin Stitt called for an audit of the TPS citing a request from Ashley and fellow school board member Dr. Jennettie Marshall.
Records show Ashley received a $500 donation from the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee which promotes “constitutional freedom, free markets and a biblical worldview.” The December donation was documented via a modified form after Ashley was elected in April.
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission wrote to Public Radio Tulsa that there is no deadline for submitting changes and that filing incorrect forms for the purpose of changing them later is actually a political strategy. . But reports with incorrect information “should be changed as soon as possible to reflect correct activity.”
Moore said filing amended reports is not unusual in Oklahoma politics.
“Sometimes, in many cases, an honest mistake, an accounting error, someone forgot to properly categorize a donation or an expense, and an accountant goes back and corrects those things, but we also see it in questionable ways that is designed to distract or obscure the true nature of what is happening in political races,” Moore said.
As for her future plans, Ashley said Tulsa World while she hopes to be re-elected in 2026, she has not created a nomination committee. Records show this to be false. In June, Ashley filed a statement of organization naming Charity Marcus and Fran Fleming as officers of her 2026 committee.
In her latest organizing statement, Ashley describes herself as “non-partisan.”
Whether or not Ashley continues in her seat will obviously be decided by voters, but how much is unclear. Both Ashley and Marshall were elected by narrow margins. Marshall won his race in just 25 votesand Ashley won hers by 127 votes with less than 1,000 votes cast.
Wright said low turnout in school board elections isn’t unusual, but it’s a problem and she hopes the current TPS struggles will be a wake-up call.
“The politician who lives closest to you is the most important politician,” Wright said.
Ashley, who has repeatedly touted transparency, did not respond to questions for this article.