OKLAHOMA CITY -- The state's new superintendent clashed with lawmakers Tuesday after he showed up at a high-profile legislative budget hearing not yet ready to discuss the specific details of his agency's budget priorities and vision.

Ryan Walters arrived with a budget that had been approved by the State Board of Education under his predecessor, Joy Hofmeister. But, he told the House's common education appropriation committee that he planned to unveil a revised budget to the State Board of Education during its meeting Thursday.

When pressed for an overview of the differences between his and Hofmeister's budgets, Walters said his will offer a "much bigger, bolder approach to reading" outcomes for students in kindergarten through third grade as well as a performance-based pay plan to continue to retain the "best and brightest" educators.

He faced pushback from fellow Republicans, who said his agency has been doing a poor job communicating with them and who vocalized concerns about the impact that ongoing negative campaign rhetoric is going to have on retaining classroom teachers in their local communities.

"I want to be able to see what the vision is, what his vision is, but I can't do it for him. His team has to communicate with us and tell us what it is. I don't need elevator speeches. I need details," said state Rep. Del Kerbs, R-Shawnee, after the hearing.

Kerbs said he was "a little frustrated" that Walters wasn't prepared to discuss his updated budget priorities. He said the people living in his legislative district deserve to know how Walters plans to take care of their students and teachers, and he said he feels like communication from the State Department of Education has been lacking since Walters took over.

"I understand Superintendent Walters is drinking from a fire hydrant and trying to get his staff in place and all those things, but the state does not stop just because we elected a new state superintendent or you get elected to a new position," Kerbs said.

Kerbs said Walters' campaign ended in November, and there's work to do. He and his constituents want to know specifically what tools Walters and the State Department of Education need to be successful.

"Let's give me the details," he said. "I need to know. I can't just give you a blank check."

State Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, the House committee chair, ultimately cut the hearing short and rescheduled it for next week. However, he first admonished Walters that lawmakers are struggling to get their questions answered by State Department of Education officials, which McBride said is a huge issue.

"Not one person in Oklahoma is surprised that Democrats are unhappy with the political theater that was orchestrated today," said Matt Langston, a spokesman for Walters, in a statement following the hearing. "They do not want transparency, accountability or even basic reform because they are used to playing in the shadows. Union bosses, whining and liberal tears will not stop education reform, and the superintendent is looking forward to next week's actual budget hearing."

Such budget hearings are typically routine, and lawmakers use the input to help craft funding priorities.

Walters left the impression during the hearing that he's not equipped nor has the experience to do the job, said Angela Clark Little, founder of Oklahomans for Public Education and mother of twins who attend Edmond Public Schools. Her grassroots advocacy group founded in 2014 has about 33,000 members.

"It feels like amateur hour at the state Capitol," she said. "It's concerning because we have kiddos that are counting on him (Walters) to be able to lead and him to know how to do this job. It doesn't appear that that's the case. I think that the inexperience is showing."

Clark Little said it felt like Walters used the hearing to make a campaign speech.

"I was hopeful that the campaigning would stop, and the work would begin, and that's clearly not happening, and it's very concerning to a lot of us that that transition doesn't seem to be happening," she said.

State Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, pressed Walters during the hearing about what she can do to retain classroom teachers who have been inundated with negative social media messages, and asked how she can reassure her superintendents who are afraid they're going to lose 10% of their appropriations under Walters' leadership.

People have a right to question whether Walters is ready to do his job and is prepared to start running the agency, said state Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, after the hearing.

"Today, I think we had an excellent demonstration that for him the campaign continues, and government does not yet begin," Waldron said. "So he had no budget to prepare. He couldn't answer a question about the statutory authority. … And when pressed on questions, he fell back into a defensive crouch and used words like 'indoctrination' again, which I don't understand how that word even belongs in a budget hearing."

He said Tuesday's meeting "shook the confidence" of Republicans and Democrats alike who serve on the committee.

State Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, said it felt like Walters tried to hijack the Legislature's appropriations hearing by spending a lot of time talking about policy instead of his agency budget as instructed.

"I think he was prepared to do what he wanted to do as opposed to what the Legislature wanted him to do," he said. "And if he wants to have his own press conference and do his own deal, absolutely more power to it, but don't waste our time as legislators to come in and do your thing on our time."

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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