After convening for hours in a closed meeting, Oklahoma’s State Board of Education flipped public school funding on its head.
The board voted 4-3 on a resolution to “equalize funding for all charter schools and public schools.”
The resolution, introduced by recent Gov. Kevin Stitt appointee Trent Smith, will open up funding streams for charter schools that had previously been off limits. It comes as a vehicle to settle a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association. That suit alleged the state didn’t fairly fund charter schools - schools that are public schools students can opt into attending, which are overseen by a sponsor and free from some state regulations.
Charter schools don’t receive some state funds as well as monies from local taxes. The resolution would change that effective July 1.
Members Smith, Brian Bobek, Estella Hernandez and Jennifer Monies voted to approve it. It was sharply criticized by State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
“This violates Oklahoma statute, the Oklahoma Constitution and the oath I swore to uphold when I took office,” she said before the vote was taken up on the measure.
Members Bill Flanagan and Carlisha Williams-Bradley joined Hofmeister in voting against it.
Thursday evening, Oklahoma Public Charter School Association President Chris Brewster praised the decision in a written statement to StateImpact.
“This settlement is a tremendous step toward funding equity for the students who attend our state’s public charter schools. 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,” he wrote.
“We appreciate the members of the State Board of Education who voted to support all public school students in Oklahoma. Our state’s public charter schools are a vital piece of Oklahoma’s education system. Whether traditional, charter, private or homeschool, we must all work together to do the important job of educating our children.”
The resolution says the intent is to make money distribution fairer in an effort “to provide the greatest measure of equalization of funding.”
It will surely be debated. And Hofmeister said that it likely breaks the law in a written statement Thursday evening.
“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. I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma statute and the Oklahoma Constitution,” she wrote.
“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 valorum 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.”