A groundbreaking settlement will fundamentally change the way charter schools are funded in Oklahoma, despite vehement opposition from the state’s top education official.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 4-3 on Thursday in favor of an agreement with the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
The charter school association called the agreement a “tremendous step” for equality in school funding.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the settlement could violate state law and have “seismic” implications by redistributing school funding.
“Today’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,” Hofmeister said in a statement Thursday evening. “I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma statute and the Oklahoma Constitution.”
The agreement will allow charter schools to receive local tax dollars previously unavailable to them, such as property taxes and motor vehicle taxes, in proportion to their student attendance. There are 81,000 students attending Oklahoma charter schools.
This agreement would bring charter schools on nearly equal footing with the way traditional public school districts are funded and could drive hundreds of dollars more per student to charter schools.
However, charter schools still would lack the ability to issue bonds or levy taxes. The settlement does not include back pay to charter schools.
The decision potentially could generate millions of local tax revenue to statewide virtual charter schools, Hofmeister said. The state’s largest virtual charter school system, Epic Charter Schools, is already booming with state funds because of spiking enrollment.
Charter schools and virtual charter schools are public schools that have more freedom over their curricula and are subject to extra oversight. Families must choose to enroll in charter schools, unlike traditional school districts where students are automatically zoned.
Hofmeister said the settlement offer was made a day before the board’s Thursday meeting.
“I do not support this nor do I think the board should vote to approve this settlement, which came in yesterday,” Hofmeister said during the board meeting.
Board members Estela Hernandez, Brian Bobek, Trent Smith, and Jennifer Monies voted in favor of the settlement. Carlisha Williams-Bradley and Bill Flanagan joined Hofmeister in voting against it.
The board discussed the details of the agreement in a private meeting and voted publicly on the issue without reading or summarizing the settlement. The Oklahoman later obtained the full text of the agreement.
The president of the Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association, Chris Brewster, praised the board’s decision. Brewster is the superintendent of the Santa Fe South Schools charter district.
“This settlement is a tremendous step toward funding equity for the students who attend our state’s public charter schools,” Brewster said in a statement. “We pursued this action based on the belief that our students deserve the same educational opportunities and funding as their peers who attend traditional public schools. It is fundamentally unfair for districts to receive funding for students who do not attend their schools. This settlement rights that wrong.”
The charter school association sued the state board in Oklahoma County District Court in 2017, demanding charter schools have access to the same local revenues that fund traditional public schools.
Charter schools have been funded through state aid dollars and federal funding with no revenue from local tax sources.
The charter school association argued the difference in funding opportunities meant public school districts could receive hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more per student.
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