State education board challenged by local school districts

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
Bobby Black is sworn in as the newest member of the Dickson Board of Education Monday, April 12, 2021. Among his first votes was one to approve legal action against the State Board of Education for a March 25 vote to settle a 2017 lawsuit and change funding for charter schools.

School districts in southern Oklahoma are joining the fight against a decision by the state board of education to settle a lawsuit and change how charter schools are funded. At least two Carter County school districts have taken official steps challenging last month’s action by the Oklahoma State Board of Education. 

The Dickson Public School Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to demand the state board of education rescind the March 25 vote to settle a lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association. 

The Dickson school board also approved a measure to pursue legal action against the state school board’s decision to settle the 2017 lawsuit. The Lone Grove Public Schools Board of Education on Monday also approved legal action against the state board of education.  

The 2017 lawsuit stems from the claim that charter schools are entitled to local revenues that fund traditional public schools. The settlement approved by the State Board of Education last month allows local revenues, like property and motor vehicle taxes, to be directed to charter schools. 

Dickson school Superintendent Jeff Colclasure said that he wanted the district to stand with other districts across the state that face substantial funding cuts with the change. He estimated hundreds of dollars per student were at stake if the settlement stands. 

“Even though it doesn’t impact us as greatly as it does some districts, I think we’re all in the same business. If they’re going to overreach this, what are they going to overreach next,” Colclasure told his local board. 

State education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told the state education board last month that accepting the settlement would violate the law.  

“Based on legal advice, this violates Oklahoma statue, the Oklahoma Constitution and the oath that I swore to uphold when I took office. I do not support this nor do I think the board should vote to approve this settlement which came in yesterday,” Hofmeister told the state education board on March 25. 

The board approved the settlement on a 4-3 vote. 

The Oklahoma Public Charter School Association argued in its original court filing that funding mechanisms between traditional public schools and charter schools were not equitable. 

A copy of the settlement, originally obtained by The Oklahoman, calls for charter schools to receive a proportionate share of local revenues from its sponsoring local school district. Rules that have established how charter schools are funded have already been set by the state legislature. 

“Let me be clear, Oklahoma children deserve the resources needed for a strong education and I’ll continue to advocate for all our students regardless where they attend school. However, the state Board of Education cannot write its own laws or amend the constitution just because some members want something different,” Hofmeister said in a statement. 

The Center for Education Law, an Oklahoma City-based law firm that specializes in legal services for public school districts, is among the groups challenging the State Board of Education on behalf of school districts. Attorney Laura Holmes said the Center for Education Law is working with the Tulsa-based law firm Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold to represent a growing number of school districts across the state. 

“We expect probably 40 to 50 schools at this point in time that will be interested in pursuing potential lawsuit against the state board of education," Holmes said on Tuesday. “And then the Rosenstein firm is expecting over 100 school districts to join in as their client.” 

Lone Grove Public School Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller confirmed her district has secured representation from the Tulsa-based law firm. She said in a Tuesday email that the state board of education’s resolution could reduce not only local revenues but also state revenues. 

A request for comment from Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold was not returned by press time. 

It remains unclear how two of the largest districts in Carter County would be affected by the funding equalization between public and charter schools. Plainview Public School Superintendent Karl Stricker confirmed some students in the Plainview district attend virtual charter schools.

"We are monitoring the situation very closely," Stricker said in a Tuesday email.

A request for comment from Ardmore City Schools was not returned by press time.

Colclasure said his district is joining efforts by dozens of other school systems across the state to challenge the March 25 resolution by the state board of education. Media reports from across the state indicate school systems in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton are among those joining the fight.

“It’s being run by the two largest educational law firms and sharing the burden so that none of us have to spend a whole lot of money,” Colclasure said.

This story has been updated to include comments from the Center for Education Law and Plainview Public Schools.