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Local school leaders across the state have begun asking their boards of education to authorize legal action against the Oklahoma State Board of Education for striking a deal that could shift tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to charter schools.

Over the strongly voiced objections of State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and against the advice of its own legal counsel, the state board split 4-3 on March 25 in voting to settle a years-old lawsuit by the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association seeking an equal share of revenues from Oklahoma’s gross production, motor vehicle and rural electrification association tax collections, state school land earnings and county tax collections.

Such a settlement would reallocate revenue that currently flows only to traditional public schools.

Lawton Superintendent Kevin Hime told the Tulsa World that seeking the go-ahead for the school district’s attorney to take legal action against the state board is a preemptive move but that he is still holding out hope that it doesn’t come to that.

“We hope the issue is resolved at the state level without the district needing to file a lawsuit, but the district has a responsibility to look out for the best interest of its students,” said Hime. “Our hope is the courts will uphold the state constitution and ensure that when Lawton residents pay property taxes, those taxpayer dollars will continue to support students in Lawton Public Schools.”

The Lawton and Sand Springs school board agendas included items to their attorneys to initiate legal action. Shawnee’s agenda didn’t specify the possibility of legal action and instead included a vote on a resolution “regarding response to the State Board of Education’s vote of March 25, 2021, dealing with charter school funding.”

The Yukon and Millwood school board agendas for Monday evening each included the same identical two items — a demand for the state board to rescind its March 25 vote “due to the overreaching, illegal, and unconstitutional nature of the action” and authorization for the district’s superintendent and legal counsel to pursue appropriate actions “including litigation against the State Board of Education or any other appropriate entities, organizations, or persons regarding the State Board of Education’s actions of March 25, 2021.”

Hofmeister blasted the March 25 surprise settlement deal, ramrodded through by a vote of four of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s six appointees on the state board, as a circumvention of the will of the people of Oklahoma and the state Legislature, adding: “I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma statute and the Oklahoma Constitution.”

If successful in court, the settlement deal could shift tens of millions of dollars to charter schools, which are deregulated, publicly funded schools operated by independent rather than elected governing boards. They enroll students according to parent choice, as opposed to residential attendance boundaries.

An Oklahoma County District Court judge ruled in the fall of 2017 that attorneys for the Tulsa and Oklahoma City school districts would be allowed to intervene in the statewide charter school association’s legal battle against the state for access to more public funding.

The two inner-city school districts willingly sponsor most of the state’s charter school districts, but the legal battle puts them in direct competition with charter schools for existing dollars.

Oklahoma City Public Schools filed a petition in district court last week challenging the state board’s authority in the matter and seeking a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction to block any reallocation of revenue that currently flows only to traditional public schools.

The petition also seeks declaratory judgment about how Oklahoma statutes and the state constitution’s provisions on school funding should be interpreted, as well as on the State Board of Education’s authority.

Any school that would be affected by the changes could go to court to challenge the legality of the state board’s actions, but because the Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts are parties in the lawsuit, they could be entitled to be heard in the existing court case.

Last week, Tulsa Public Schools leaders demanded that the state Board of Education rescind its March 25 vote, saying that district is considering “any and all available legal options” and was communicating with other school districts across the state about possible next steps.

Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton contributed to this story.

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