OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Charles McCall is calling a potential lawsuit over education funding “frivolous,” adding it would waste taxpayer dollars to defend it.
The possible legal action against state lawmakers was announced Thursday by the Oklahoma City Public School District.
According to Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora, the school district has had to cut between $35 million and $45 million out of their budget in the past two years.
As a result, Lora said about 200 teachers have been let go, which has increased class sizes.
“We canceled textbook purchases, made cuts to arts, athletics [and] instructional materials from the school budgets. It devastated our schools,” Lora said.
District 4 school board member Mark Mann said there’s no set dollar amount in what they’re seeking, citing only enough to help pay for resources the district is required to provide.
“As far as the specifics, I don't care how [lawmakers] do it. That's their job. I just want them to go back to 23rd and Lincoln to do their job,” Mann said.
In response, House Speaker Charles McCall said Oklahoma City Public Schools per pupil funding is $1,000 higher per student higher than the state average:
“Every state agency has been asked to operate on less because our revenues are down, yet the Department of Education has received a flat budget while others have taken cuts. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has already adjudicated the issue of ‘adequate school funding’ and dismissed a similar challenge in 2007. Not only that, but according to Department of Education funding data, the Oklahoma City Public School District’s per pupil funding average is more than $1,000 per student higher than the state average. However, if Oklahoma City Public Schools is concerned about a lack of funding, then I'm certainly curious to know how they found the money for millions of dollars in pay increases for their staff. I would encourage them to spend their time and money on being better stewards of the dollars they receive instead of filing frivolous lawsuits that blame others for their own poor leadership. Not only would a lawsuit waste the school district’s money, it would waste additional taxpayer dollars to defend it. The Oklahoma City Public School District needs to stop playing political games and get back to educating students."
In response to McCall's statement, Lora said, since legislators couldn't find a way to increase teacher salaries, the district was forced to take it upon itself.
"I am proud of the excellent financial management and transparency that has been our commitment to the public for many years. After undergoing painful budget cuts that raised class sizes, slashed administrative positions, and reduced budgets for supplies and other student supports last year, our administration's conservative and responsible management allowed OKCPS to fulfill the broken promises of our legislative leadership to raise teacher salaries. Our amazing teachers continue to do more with less, always putting students first even as their class sizes continue to increase and resources such as textbooks and professional development fade away, and they deserve every penny we invest in them.
Oklahoma's funding formula does provide weighed funding for students with higher needs, and OKCPS serves many students who need extra support. The method the state uses to distribute funds to schools is not the problem- the legislature's failure to display the moral courage required to provide stable, adequate funding for education is. I urge the legislature to fulfill its moral and constitutional obligation to establish stable sources of revenue to provide the resources our students deserve in a special session this fall. It is clear that significant structural change must come to the state of Oklahoma in order to fix this for all of our state's 700,000 school children," Lora said in a statement.
A special board meeting has been called for Monday, where schools officials will consider the resolution to seek legal action.
Mann said it’s unclear how much money it takes to pursue a lawsuit, adding it depends on whether other districts would join them.
“We’ll also have to determine as we begin this process after Monday night if this resolution passes of determining what each of those lawsuits will be. There could be multiple lawsuits,” he said.
An estimated cost for legal action may be determined in the coming weeks.