What happened Thursday may be a sign of things to come over the next year.
Oklahoma City Public Schools leaders announced in a news conference Thursday that they intend to sue the State of Oklahoma’s Legislature because of what they view as unconstitutionally low funding.
Not long after, House Speaker Charles McCall issued a stern response accusing OKCPS of “poor leadership” as the cause of the district’s budget problems.
Then, later in the day, OKCPS Superintendent Aurora Lora issued a response citing the district’s budget cuts that “raised class sizes, slashed administrative positions, and reduced budgets for supplies and other student supports last year.”
First in cuts
At the news conference board member Mark Mann cited Oklahoma as being “first in the nation for cuts per pupil.”
“Budgets have been cut while mandates have remained. This is not sustainable for any school system,” said Mann.
“Oklahoma’s legislative leadership has failed at their constitutional responsibility to provide textbooks for every child, and their moral responsibility to put Oklahoma’s children and their education first.”
He said they are preparing to sue the Legislature, the speaker of the house and the president pro tem of the Senate.
The board will take action on a resolution Monday to set the process in motion.
McCall’s response argued that the district receives about $1,000 more per pupil than the average allocation for the whole state.
He also cited the pay raise the district gave its teachers this year.
“I would encourage them to spend their time and money on being better stewards of the dollars they receive instead of ﬁling frivolous lawsuits that blame others for their own poor leadership,” McCall wrote.
Lora’s response was that the district had cut spending across the district, eliminated hundreds of operational and administrative staff positions and cut needed programs in order to afford the teacher pay raises.
“Our administration’s conservative and responsible management allowed OKCPS to fulfill the broken promises of our legislative leadership to raise teacher salaries,” wrote Lora in her response to McCall.
In the past year Oklahoma lost an increasing number of experienced and new teachers to surrounding states that pay significantly more than Oklahoma. The OKCPS pay raise for its teachers was to stem the exodus.
She wrote that the state gives more funding per pupil for districts that served students with greater needs. The district is the largest in the state and serves most of Oklahoma City’s poorest population.
“The method the state uses to distribute funds to schools is not the problem—the legislature’s failure to display the moral courage required to provide stable, adequate funding for education is,” Lora said.
Free Press talked with board member and attorney Charles Henry after the news conference about how complex the lawsuit might be with one government entity suing another.
“It shouldn’t be that complex because it’s based on constitutional issues,” said Henry. “The Legislature should do its job by following the law.”