Law & Courts

Dozens of Oklahoma Districts Allege Funding Glitch in Lawsuit

By Daarel Burnette II — March 29, 2016 2 min read
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Nearly 50 Oklahoma school districts are asking the state Supreme Court to compel the state Education Department to determine how much it underpaid school districts by miscalculating state aid for nearly 22 years and to recoup overpayment that was incorrectly awarded to other districts.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, includes 48 school districts as plaintiffs, including Oklahoma City public schools. The districts are part of a coalition called Oklahoma Schools for Fair Funding. The state education superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, state treasurer, Ken Miller, and the state tax commission were named as defendants.

The lawsuit centers on a state law that allows counties to tax commercial and agricultural personal properties between 10 and 15 percent. The counties that levied taxes over 11 percent could keep the revenues generated above the 11 percent threshold for their local school districts. Instead, the lawsuit argues, the state used those revenues in the general fund when calculating state school aid.

The lawsuit argues the state has miscalculated aid since the 1991-92 school year and continued to do so through February 2015. Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi acknowledged in December 2014 that the state had miscalculated the aid to districts for the last 22 years, the lawsuit states.

The error affected nearly all state aid districts received between July 1991 and February 2015, according to the lawsuit.

That mistake cost districts millions, they argue. When aid was properly calculated in July 2015, the Ponca City Public schools got nearly $1 million in net state aid, according to the lawsuit.

“We simply believe that what has happened to our children and our taxpayers is unfair and deserves to be remedied,” David Pennington, the superintendent of Ponca City public schools, said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

Pennington said he estimated that his district lost more than $13 million in the last 22 years; Oklahoma City schools about $40 million; and Enid schools about $4.5 million.

“Those are significant taxpayer dollars that should have stayed in the local schools,” he said.

The districts argue that if some districts did not get enough money, it stood to reason that some districts got too much.

The lawsuit asks the court to require that the state treasurer hold the recovered overpayment in a trust for the disadvantaged districts.

A hearing is set for April 26.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.