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State Board Of Education Strikes Contract With Private Law Firm For Legal Challenges To Funding Vote

The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved a $45,000 contract Monday evening for outside legal counsel in three legal challenges to its decision to equalize traditional public and charter school funding.

Hall Estill shareholder John O’Connor is now representing the board in district court actions filed by Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools, and one before the Oklahoma Supreme Court almost 200 districts are part of.

Those challenges are in response to the board's March vote to equalize public and charter school funding. That vote was intended to settle another lawsuit charter schools filed in 2017.

State Department of Education General Counsel Brad Clark told the board ahead of Monday evening’s vote they have run out of extensions in the actions from Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools, and a state Supreme Court hearing is set for June 2.

"In light of all of that and due to the impending deadlines, the urgency of this matter to get counsel on board and up to speed on the cases to move forward in those matters deemed appropriate and necessary, this matter is recommended for approval," Clark said.

Board member Trent Smith, who voted in favor of funding equalization in March, asked Brad Clark what would happen if a potential legislative solution to the funding dispute, Senate Bill 229, becomes law and renders legal challenges moot.

"So, 229 passes, we all decide that hey, this is great, and we’ve already filed the briefs. So, say this happens on the 28th. And then the lawsuit’s dropped. We rescind our vote. The briefs have been filed. Does it just simply go away at that point? Or are there other steps that will have to be taken?" Smith said.

"I think there are other steps, but really, it’s probably best if we engage in executive session to talk about that," Clark said.

"I gotcha. OK, OK," Smith said.

SB229 currently would create an equalization fund to make grants to schools with low property tax bases or no access to such funding, including brick-and-mortar charter schools.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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