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Nearly 200 Oklahoma school districts challenging charter school funding vote

Nearly 200 Oklahoma school districts challenging charter school funding vote

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The Sand Springs school board voted unanimously April 5 to authorize the district’s attorney to initiate legal action against the state school board over the state board’s vote to settle a lawsuit concerning charter school funding. Now nearly 200 school districts across Oklahoma have joined the legal effort.

Nearly 200 school districts, including Sand Springs Public Schools, are asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop the State Board of Education from implementing a proposed settlement that would increase funding to charter schools.

On Friday afternoon, attorneys representing 187 school districts across 64 counties filed a petition seeking a declaratory judgment against the State Board of Education for voting in March to approve a settlement to a 2017 lawsuit.

The Oklahoma Public Charter School Association had filed that lawsuit, and the settlement would grant charter schools access to revenue sources such as the state’s gross production and motor vehicle taxes, which are currently restricted by law to traditional school districts.

“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 filing states. “The SBE seeks to allow charter schools to do indirectly what they are clearly prohibited from doing directly as based on current law.”

Despite objections from state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and against the advice of its own legal counsel, the state school board voted 4-3 on March 25 to settle the suit, prompting multiple school districts across the state to take legal action.

The State Department of Education is also named as a respondent in the filing.

Attorneys for the 187 school districts are challenging the constitutionality of the settlement and claim that it would undermine the Legislature’s authority by unilaterally determining public education funding levels.

Additionally, the filing claims that the proposed settlement as approved by the state school board will make it difficult for school districts to plan their budgets for the coming school year, in part because the settlement does not explicitly lay out the formula to calculate how much charter schools would be due from a district’s general fund, building fund or other local revenue sources that were previously off-limits.

The changes proposed by the settlement are supposed to be in effect by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

“Due to the action of the SBE, each petitioner can not budget adequately for the next fiscal year and each petitioner will suffer a loss which cannot be addressed without this court assuming jurisdiction,” the attorneys wrote. “The urgency of this controversy cannot be overstated.”

In a supporting brief, the attorneys also argue that the resolution was passed in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act and should therefore be declared invalid.

Although the board’s publicly published agenda for its special March 25 meeting did include the 2017 charter school lawsuit from the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association as an item to be brought up during executive session, it did not indicate that a potential settlement would be discussed or even considered.

According to comments during the open portion of the meeting, the board received the settlement proposal just one day in advance of the meeting.

Multiple school districts across northeastern Oklahoma are among the petitioners. They include Allen Bowden, Bartlesville, Berryhill, Bixby, Briggs, Broken Arrow, Caney Valley, Catoosa, Chelsea, Chouteau-Mazie, Claremore, Cleveland, Collinsville, Coweta, Foyil, Glenpool, Grand View, Jenks, Keys, Lowery, McCord, Morris, Oilton, Okmulgee, Prue, Pryor, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Skiatook, Sperry, Stilwell, Tahlequah, Union, Verdigris and Wagoner.

The state’s two largest brick and mortar districts, Oklahoma City Public Schools and Tulsa Public Schools, are not party to the suit. Each has filed separate claims over the board’s settlement vote.

State Department of Education votes Thursday, March 25; superintendent says 'Based on legal advice, this violates Oklahoma statute, Oklahoma constitution, and the oath that swore to uphold when I took office'

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I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University and a board member for both Oklahoma SPJ and the Native American Journalists Association. When not chasing stories, I'm usually chasing my children or our pets.

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