Oklahoma legislature passes resolution to equalize funding for public charter schools and some traditional districts amid pending lawsuits

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma legislature passed a resolution Monday that is supposed to equalize funding for public charter schools as well as traditional districts in the state amid pending lawsuits.

“I think this is very positive change for over 320 districts,” said Chris Brewster, the president of the Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association. “I think this is a fantastic decision for about 53 to 58 percent of kids in the state of Oklahoma.”

“We’re glad that the legislature and the state department of education have come up with a solution that helps all students,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education association.

Here’s how it will work: The Redbud School Funding Act will use a portion of medical marijuana taxes and the public common school building equalization fund. These will provide “per person” building funds to public charter schools along with traditional districts that don’t get enough funding, bringing them up to the state average.

Priest said this year, it will pay out about $35 million and will likely affect about 300 traditional districts.

“The Oklahoma Education Association is glad that this is going to solve an issue and allow folks to focus on educating kids,” she said.

It’s peace at last, as the piece of legislation passes the house and senate. This measure is also likely to bring the fight over funding to an end as all indications point to it being signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The Oklahoma Public Charters Schools Association has been in a lawsuit with the Oklahoma State Board of Education for almost four years. They claim they are critically underfunded.

Fast forward to late March 2021. The board narrowly passed a resolution to give them more money. However, that brought about more issues since charter schools can’t get bonded money like other public schools can.

“That was against the law,” Priest said.

Now, everyone’s happy. All of them said they hope it’s a step forward for Oklahoma’s public education.

“This is an incredibly, probably considered a monumental, decision,” Brewster said.

The State Department of Education still has to make rules on how it will be distributed. The state board rescinded their original resolution to settle the lawsuit, with the exception that the Public Charter Schools Association will rescind their original lawsuit.

Oklahoma City Public Schools released their own statement as well after the passing of the bill.

“I am deeply grateful for our state lawmakers who came together to craft this long-awaited, bipartisan solution on behalf of thousands of Oklahoma students. HB229 brings with it a new dedicated funding stream which will help to address many of the educational inequities that have existed across our great state for generations. All of our kids deserve the very best from us, and today we got it right, Oklahoma.”

Dr. Sean McDaniel, OKCPS Superintendent of Schools

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister released her own statement as well.

“This is a victory for thousands of Oklahoma schoolchildren being educated in public charter schools and more than 300 traditional school districts. The state is making available dedicated funding for our students and their schools with the passage of SB 229, which is a long-overdue measure to equalize building funds. This bill also marks a critical step toward ending lawsuits currently involving school districts, Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association and the state Board of Education. The next action to that end comes with this evening’s special meeting of the State Board of Education, where board members will consider rescinding the March 25 vote to settle the 2017 charter school funding lawsuit.”

Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma State Supt.

Meanwhile, another bill passed the House Monday that is supposed to address loopholes in charter school law. The bill, authored by Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, is supposed to “improve financial oversight and enforce best practices for charter schools.”

Bill officials say the measure addresses concerns made public in a recent multi-county grand jury report. The bill will require education management organizations, which are hired by some charters to oversee certain school expenses, to provide financial documents to the State Department of Education, charter sponsors, or charter board for oversight enforcement if discrepancies are found. Currently, this is not required.

The measure will also make all charter school designated “learning funds” public. The legislation specified that the organizations can’t commingle funds from multiple schools. They also must report actual costs in the State Department of Education’s cost accounting system. It also requires specific training and continuing education for members of any charter board contracting with the organizations and puts spending limits on them.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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