How the State Board Abruptly Settled Charter School Lawsuit Against Legal Advice

The state Board of Schooling got here to an surprising decision in a four-year-old constitution faculty funding lawsuit Thursday in a transfer the state superintendent and their legal professional say sidesteps the Legislature and violates the state structure. 

The decision, permitted by a 4-to-3 vote, permits constitution colleges to faucet into a number of state and native income streams beforehand off limits to charters, together with basic fund, constructing fund and county levies. At the moment constitution colleges solely obtain state appropriated funds. 

Pleasure Hofmeister, superintendent of public instruction, delivered a powerful rebuke earlier than voting no on the measure. 

“Based mostly on authorized recommendation, this violates Oklahoma statute, Oklahoma structure, and the oath that I swore to uphold once I took workplace and I don’t help this nor do I feel the board ought to vote to approve this settlement, which got here in yesterday,” she mentioned. 

A dialogue of the lawsuit, introduced towards the board in 2017 by the Oklahoma Public Constitution College Affiliation, was positioned on the agenda for Thursday’s assembly as a routine replace to the board, Hofmeister advised Oklahoma Watch on Friday. That night, Norman legal professional Invoice Hickman, representing the affiliation, despatched over the proposed settlement. 

Hofmeister mentioned she and basic counsel Brad Clark suggested the board that the provide needed to be rejected as a result of it violates the structure, state statute and circumvents the legislative course of. 

Board members moved ahead anyway. Trent Smith, who joined the board in January, made the movement to approve; becoming a member of him in voting sure had been Brian Bobek, Jennifer Monies and Estela Hernandez. Voting towards the decision had been Hofmeister, Invoice Flanagan and Carlisha Bradley. 

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Monies, who additionally serves on the John Rex Constitution College board, mentioned she voted for the decision as a result of each public faculty scholar ought to have entry to the identical public funding. 

“Federal, state and native taxes are paid, partially, to offer a free public training for all college students. How that funding is divvied up shouldn’t be an advanced method nobody understands that’s dictated by the kind of public faculty a toddler attends. That’s an outdated solution to fund public colleges,” she mentioned. 

The board’s motion got here as a shock even to Chris Brewster, president of the constitution faculty affiliation. 

“I didn’t count on it to return by way of on this method,” he mentioned Friday. “I actually thought we needed to go to a lawsuit to resolve it. And I’m all the time happy while you don’t should go to the courts over one thing like this.” 

Brewster, the superintendent of Santa Fe South constitution faculty, mentioned he’s used to getting used as a “political soccer” for many years and he acknowledges that the board’s determination carries plenty of political weight. 

He additionally expects the decision to be challenged however that, finally, it will likely be discovered authorized and constitutional. 

Within the lawsuit, the affiliation claims the board is wrongly deciphering the Oklahoma Constitution Colleges Act and that the legislature intends to equalize funding between all public colleges to guarantee equal academic alternatives. Constitution colleges are public colleges which might be independently operated; their boards are appointed, not elected. 

The affiliation factors to language within the act that states constitution colleges are to obtain state help and “some other state-appropriated income,” and that such colleges are eligible for “some other help, grants or revenues allowed to different colleges.”

The board, although, says initially, the Constitution College Act specified that constitution colleges had been to obtain per scholar funding that included native, county, and state funds. In 2006, the legislature amended the act and solely left in “state help income.”

And although the legislature has amended the act a number of instances since then, the portion on funding has remained unchanged. 

State statute additionally specifies that constitution colleges “shall not levy taxes or situation bonds.” 

In allocating state help, the division first considers a district’s different sources of income and supplies an quantity meant to equalize. That’s why charters, which don’t obtain native funds, at the moment have an outsized impression on the state price range; they obtain extra from the state however no more total. If charters are allowed to faucet into the extra income streams, it ought to scale back their state help, so the general impression on training funding is unclear. 

Different states do permit constitution colleges to obtain native tax income, however the proposals are handed by way of a state query to amend the structure or by way of legislative motion. 

Hofmeister mentioned when the state board permitted the decision on Thursday, they sidestepped that course of. All training board members are appointed by the governor, aside from the superintendent, who’s elected and serves because the chair. 

“It’s an impatient transfer to get what you need. And that isn’t our position, working because the state Board of Schooling. We’re to function for the nice of all beneath state statute and the structure,” Hofmeister mentioned. 

This 12 months, there are 81,739 Oklahoma college students enrolled in a constitution faculty, 11.8% of the entire scholar inhabitants. About 60,000 attend Epic Constitution Colleges. 

The way in which the decision is written, statewide digital constitution colleges can be eligible for the native and state revenues. 

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers training. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or [email protected] Observe her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC

Whitney Bryen is an investigative reporter and visible storyteller at Oklahoma Watch with an emphasis on home violence, psychological well being and nursing houses affected by COVID-19. Contact her at (405) 201-6057 or [email protected] Observe her on Twitter @SoonerReporter.

The publish How the State Board Abruptly Settled Constitution College Lawsuit Towards Authorized Recommendation appeared first on Oklahoma Watch.

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