Tulsa Public Schools on Monday demanded that the Oklahoma State Board of Education rescind its Thursday vote that could have the practical effect of redistributing tens of millions of state dollars to charter schools.
Superintendent Deborah Gist said to distract from how underfunded as a whole Oklahoma’s public school system is, state leaders are pitting different kinds of public school leaders against one another.
She pointed to various ongoing policy debates before the Legislature and now in this latest action by a majority of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointees on the state education board.
“In the midst of navigating this international emergency, our school systems are under relentless attack by our own state leaders. Every Oklahoman, whether you are a parent, a grandparent, an educator, a pastor, a retiree or a business leader, if you are paying taxes in the state of Oklahoma you should be outraged by the actions of our state leaders,” Gist said at a Monday morning press conference, conducted via videoconference. “All of this is happening while we are trying to keep our families safe, people are trying to keep their business afloat and parents are trying to support their children’s education.”
Over the strongly voiced objections of State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and against the advice of its own legal counsel, the state Board of Education split 4-3 Thursday in voting to settle a years-old lawsuit seeking an equal share for charter schools of revenues from Oklahoma’s gross production, motor vehicle and rural electrification association tax collections, state school land earnings and county tax collections, which currently flow only to traditional public schools.
Stitt issued a press release Monday commending the state board and defending its Thursday vote as a “lawful decision to uphold current statute and affirm that charter schools are public schools.
“The COVID pandemic has shown us that students learn in a variety of different ways and there is no one-size-fits-all school for every student. Public school students should not be punished for succeeding in a charter school setting. Further, existing statute makes clear that charter schools are eligible for local revenues,” Stitt stated in writing. “The state Board’s decision is a lawful solution to a problem that has existed for years and predates my time as governor.”
Tulsa Public Schools along with Oklahoma City Public Schools was granted permission by a judge to intervene in the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association’s 2017 lawsuit against the state for access to more public funding.
Now, Gist said TPS is considering “any and all available legal options” and communicating with other school districts across the state about possible next steps.
Gist said Oklahoma’s public school funding formula is one only duly elected lawmakers should decide, and it should not be subjected to alteration by gubernatorial appointees or even the courts.
She said she thinks it’s particularly ironic that the Oklahoma Senate led a year-long task force on needed updates to the state’s public school funding formula, but to date, all task force recommendations have been ignored by state leaders.
“I believe in a quality, equitable funding formula. Our funding formula — one we are all proud of — is a policy tool and it should be treated that way,” Gist said. “This was not a lawful decision. It also is a misplaced decision. The state board does not have the authority to change our state’s funding formula … The formula itself is strong. Certainly it could be improved and we should do that together.”
The state’s two inner-city school districts willingly sponsor most of the state’s charter school districts, but the legal battle puts them in direct competition with charter schools for existing dollars.
If the charter schools’ legal effort is ultimately successful, all traditional public schools stand to lose revenue, with the Oklahoma City and Tulsa districts positioned to lose the most.
“We are a proud authorizer of quality charter schools here in Tulsa. They are part of our Tulsa Public Schools family. We provide them with significant support as a district,” Gist said Monday. “What this does … it is just one example in which state leaders in Oklahoma are taking actions that leave us sort of fighting for crumbs. What we should do is band together and say we are not going to allow the further destruction of public schools in Oklahoma.”
Hofmeister, who is elected by voters statewide, made a point of revealing on Thursday that she was blindsided by the vote of a majority of Stitt’s board appointees because the settlement offer had been received in her office only one day earlier.
“Based on legal advice, this violates Oklahoma statute, Oklahoma Constitution and the oath that I swore to uphold when I took office — and I do not support this nor do I think the board should vote to approve this settlement which came in yesterday,” she said ahead of the vote led by a motion and second by members Trent Smith and Brian Bobek and supported by Jennifer Monies and Estela Hernandez.
Gist condemned the four who voted yes for carrying out the deal “behind closed doors with no notice to school districts.”
“Oklahomans should be alarmed by the state board’s willingness to engage in governance by fiat and by the intentional subversion of the will of the state’s voters and local control. We owe a debt of gratitude to board members (Carlisha Williams) Bradley and (Bill) Flanagan and to State Superintendent Hofmeister for raising their voices in dissent,” Gist said.