A separate decision by the Oklahoma State Board of Education Thursday was praised by supporters of charter schools and criticized by traditional public schools who say the action is unconstitutional and poses a threat to public school districts already battling for funding.
The Board of Education voted 4: 3 to approve a resolution to resolve a 2017 lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association in the Oklahoma County District Court against the Oklahoma State Board of Education for failing to state charter schools financed fairly. The order settles the lawsuit by stating that charter schools – recognized as public schools under state law – are entitled to the same general fund, construction funds, local revenue, and state revenue paid to public school districts. The change would take effect on July 1, the start of the 2021-2022 school year, under the terms of the resolution.
Now charter schools do not receive local tax revenue or all of the government funding allocated to traditional public schools.
The response from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) was immediate. Executive Director Shawn Hime urged the superintendents and other members to reach out to their lawmakers and “ask them to immediately adopt simple language to confirm funding for the charter school should it go on as it has for the past two decades. “Hime said the association is working with lawyers and education organizations on a draft language to be shared with lawmakers this week.
Hime said while the Oklahoma Charter School Act has been amended several times since it was passed in 1997, it has never allowed charter schools that do not have publicly elected bodies to collect taxes, issue bonds, or receive local property tax receipts for construction funds . “Since the property tax revenue earmarked for the general fund is taxable in the state aid formula, charter schools receive a corresponding portion of the income from local and state funds via the state aid financing formula,” said Hime in his request to the school districts.
The OSSBA said that if the settlement resolution passed, it would force all of Oklahoma’s 510 public school districts to distribute money to charter and virtual charter schools based on the number of students living in a school district but attending a charter school. That change would “shift millions of dollars from school districts to charter and virtual charter schools,” Hime said.
In addition to contradicting the existing law, the association said that the settlement would override the existing school finance law without involving the legislature or residents. Hime also cited a lack of transparency in the settlement process, noting that the ruling was not available to the public before, during, or immediately after the school council meeting (it was available through a Freedom of Information request until late Friday morning).
State superintendent for public education, Joy Hofmeister, criticized the board’s decision in a statement she made after Thursday’s meeting.
“Today’s (Thursday) board action bypasses the will of the Oklahoma people and state law by unilaterally determining how public education should be funded. I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma law and the Oklahoma Constitution, ”she said.
“This unexpected vote has serious consequences. The most obvious of these is Epic. All statewide virtual charter schools are now receiving millions of local dollars from Ad Valorem funds allocated to the construction and maintenance of public school buildings. Local tax revenues are redistributed. This change is likely to have a seismic impact on school funding across the state. The impact on school children has yet to be fully understood. “
Robert Ruiz, executive director of ChoiceMatters, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit group that supports school choice and parenting empowerment in education, praised the school board’s decision in a statement released Friday.
“We believe that the best way to improve public education, improve educational outcomes, and better serve parents and students is to give them as many options as possible within the public school system,” he said. “Charter schools, which are free and open to all, are one of the most important means of expanding the educational offer. For too long, unequal funding has held back growth. The Oklahoma State Board of Education’s decision yesterday (Thursday) will help bridge the funding gap between charters and traditional public schools and is a huge victory for parents and students. “
Oklahoma Public Charter School Association officials did not respond to attempts to comment.