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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Oklahoma City Public Schools filed the first of what could be many legal challenges to a surprise action of the Oklahoma State Board of Education recently that would equalize funding between public school districts and charter schools.

At stake are millions of taxpayer dollars possibly being shifted away from public school districts and into the coffers of charter schools, some of which pay private management companies to run operations.

Wednesday, OKCPS went to district court and filed a petition calling into question the authority of the SBE to settle a 2017 lawsuit that had been brought by the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association.

The OKCPS petition also asks for a temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction to stop the reallocation of funds that would normally go to public school districts.

By settling the suit brought against the SBE, the demands of the suit go into effect, and equalizing of funding would begin between public school districts and charter schools.

Oklahoma State Board of Education
Joy Hofmeister conducts an Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting in 2019. (File photo. BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and the SBE legal counsel expressed strong opposition to the move during the meeting.

In a statement after the meeting, Hofmeister delivered some strong language about the close vote.

“Today’s board action circumvents the will of the people of Oklahoma and the state legislature by unilaterally determining how public education is to be funded. I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma statute and the Oklahoma Constitution,” said Hofmeister.

Surprise action

March 25 the SBE decided in a split 4-3 vote to suddenly settle the lawsuit when a long legal process of counterclaims was still underway and the courts had not decided the original.

By the board voting to settle the suit, or allow the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association to win the suit, the four members of the board in effect decided to upend a process of public school funding established in the Oklahoma Constitution and carried out by the Oklahoma Legislature.

Board members Jennifer Monies, Brian Bobek, Estela Hernandez, and Trent Smith voted in favor of the settlement.

The four board members who voted to settle the lawsuit are all appointees of Governor Kevin Stitt, a sometimes harsh critic of the state’s public school districts and a proponent of charter schools.

Members of the State Board of Education are appointed by the governor while the State Superintendent is elected by a statewide vote of the people. The superintendent has one vote on the board.

Hofmeister was elected by a statewide vote in 2014 garnering 457,053 votes. She was re-elected in 2018 receiving 687,468 votes, 58.5% of the total cast.

Petition

“The SBE is granted certain powers by the Legislature,” the OKCPS petition states. “Those powers do not include making changes to Oklahoma statutes or the Oklahoma Constitution, particularly to the public funding mechanism.”

“The Oklahoma statutes clearly provide a mechanism for charter school funding and expressly prohibit a charter school from being able to levy taxes and issue bonds,” the petition continues.

The petition also points to the clear distinction between public school districts and charter schools in terms of their establishment.

“Unlike the system of public schools established under the Oklahoma Constitution, Oklahoma charter schools are creatures of legislative establishment. The Legislature established the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act (“Act”), which established a new system of education by allowing for the establishment of Oklahoma charter schools by contract: ….”

The OKCPS petition also points out that by law charter schools gain their funding through local public school districts sponsoring them.

The original 2017 lawsuit sought to have charter schools labeled as school districts but the OKCPS petition challenges that saying that the law says charter schools are within school districts.

“The SBE’s action invades the authority of the Oklahoma Legislature to make the laws of the State of Oklahoma and exceeds SBE’s authority,” states the OKCPS petition. “Furthermore, SBE has no authority or control over the allocation of local and state dedicated revenues which are controlled solely by statute.”

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Last Updated April 1, 2021, 1:45 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor