A polarizing lawsuit settlement by Oklahoma’s top school board is no more, almost two months to the day that the board shocked the state by granting local tax revenue to charter schools with the agreement.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously Monday evening to rescind the settlement, pending certain stipulations.
The original agreement, approved March 25, resolved a lawsuit the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association filed in 2017. The charter school group sued for access to local tax dollars, a revenue source that supports school facilities.
The board voted then 4-3 to allow charter schools a share of local tax revenue. Until then, local dollars, such as property and motor vehicle taxes, were reserved for traditional school districts.
The board’s withdrawal of the settlement is contingent upon the charter school association dismissing its lawsuit.
A bill awaiting the governor’s signature would offer an alternative source of funding for charter school facilities in place of local tax revenue.
That legislation, Senate Bill 229, also must be signed into law for the state board to rescind the agreement.
SB 229 is headed to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk after the state House approved its final version 97-1 on Monday. Stitt is expected to sign the legislation.
Also known as the Redbud School Funding Act, the bill will levy $38.5 million in medical marijuana tax dollars to provide grants to all public schools that earn below the state average in revenue supporting school facilities.
The bill would include all brick-and-mortar charter schools but exclude virtual charter schools.
About 300 traditional districts, most located in areas with low property values, receive less than the state average of $330 per student for their facilities.
The Redbud grants would raise their building funds up to the state average and provide charter schools with $330 for every student.
The bill is “monumental” as it narrows equity gaps for schools that lack quality buildings, modern technology infrastructure and safe transportation, said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“Oklahoma is one of only four states that fails to provide state funding to help schools with capital needs,” Hime said in a statement.
Charter schools still lack the ability to issue bonds or levy taxes. But, SB 229 would mark the first time they receive any funds solely dedicated to their facilities.
“Public charter supporters have long been working toward funding equity that is fair to all public school students and we see this bill as a win-win solution,” said Chris Brewster, president of the state charter schools association and superintendent of Santa Fe South Charter Schools.
The state board’s decision to settle the 4-year-old lawsuit took many off guard. The board received the settlement offer the day before it voted 4-3 to approve the agreement.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister vehemently opposed the decision.
“I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma statute and the Oklahoma Constitution,” she said after the board voted in favor of the settlement.
The agreement threw public schools across the state into uproar.
Nearly 200 rural, suburban, and urban districts have filed lawsuits or court action to strike it down, fearing they could lose millions of dollars in funds redistributed to charter schools. Many argued the board usurped the state Legislature by unilaterally approving a fundamental change to education funding.
The board’s decision was “a blindside to many,” said Sean McDaniel, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“There can be no doubt that this unlawful action, if successful, will have a significant impact on our OKCPS students, as well as public school students in every district in Oklahoma — especially at a time when common education is already critically underfunded,” McDaniel said in a statement.
The numerous legal challenges that districts filed against the settlement must be dropped before the board will agree to rescind it.
Hofmeister called SB 229 a critical step toward resolving the legal disputes consuming the state school board. She said fund equalization for school facilities is “long overdue.”
“This is a victory for thousands of Oklahoma schoolchildren being educated in public charter schools and more than 300 traditional school districts,” she said in a statement Monday.
Copyright (c) 2021, The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.