The board of education voted 4-3 to approve a resolution that would settle a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County District Court in 2017 by the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association against the Oklahoma State Board of Education, alleging the state has not fairly funded charter schools. The resolution settles the suit by stating charter schools — recognized in state law as public schools — are entitled to the same General Fund, Building Fund, local revenues and state dedicated revenues paid to public school districts. The change would go into effect July 1, the start of the 2021-2022 school year, under the resolution’s terms.
Now, charter schools don’t receive local tax revenue or all the state funding allocated to traditional public schools.
The response from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) was immediate, with Executive Director Shawn Hime asking superintendents and other members to contact their legislators and “ask them to immediately adopt plain language to reaffirm charter school funding should continue as it has for the last two decades.” Hime said the association is working with attorneys and educational organizations on draft language to share with legislators 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, which do not have publicly-elected boards, to levy taxes, issue bonds or receive local property tax revenue for building funds. “Because property tax revenue designated for the general fund is chargeable in the state aid formula, charter schools receive an equivalent portion of local- and state-dedicated revenue through the state aid funding formula,” Hime said in his call to school districts.
The OSSBA said if the settlement resolution stands, it would force all 510 Oklahoma public school districts to distribute money to charter and virtual charter schools based on the number of students who live in a school district but attend 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 existing law, the association said the settlement would overrule existing school finance law without involving the Legislature or residents. Hime also cited a lack of transparency in the settlement process and noted the resolution was not available to the public prior to, during or immediately after the school board meeting (it was available via a Freedom of Information request by late Friday morning).
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister criticized the board’s decision in a statement she issued after Thursday’s meeting.
“Today’s (Thursday’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,” she said.
“There are serious consequences to this unexpected vote, the most obvious of which is Epic and all statewide virtual charter schools will now receive millions of local dollars from ad valorem funds that are assessed to construct and maintain public school buildings. Local tax revenue will be redistributed. This change is likely to have a seismic effect on school funding across the state, the ramifications on schoolchildren are yet to be fully understood.”
Robert Ruiz, executive director for ChoiceMatters, an Oklahoma-based non-profit group that supports school choice and parent empowerment in education, praised the school board’s decision in a statement released Friday.
“We believe the best way to improve public education, boost educational outcomes, and better serve parents and students is by providing them with 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 primary vehicles for expanding educational choice. For too long, unequal funding has stifled their growth. Yesterday’s (Thursday’s) decision by the Oklahoma State Board of Education helps to close the funding gap between charters and traditional public schools and is a major victory for parents and students.”
Officials with the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association did not respond to an attempt for comments.