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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The State School Board of Education voted to move more money from public schools to charter schools, a decision that the State Superintendent calls unconstitutional. 

The resolution passed 4-3. The motion was brought up by board member Trent Smith, seeking to settle a lawsuit from 2017 against the school board from the State Charter Schools Association.

That motion was met with sharp criticism from State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

“This is unconstitutional, because it is basically telling taxpayers, ‘We’re going to tax you and take your money, but you’re not going to have the kind of control of what those funds will be used for.’ This is protected in the Constitution,” she said.

The Oklahoma Public Charter School Association applauded the decision, saying it levels the playing field. 

“We’re pleased at the deliberation of the state board, and their decision, in our opinion, to abide by the intent of the original charter school act with this vote and to make sure all Oklahoma school kids are treated equally with the same funding levels,” Chris Brewster with OPCSA said. “I think as charters have been radically underfunded for many years, this will help to bring back to what still aren’t adequate funding levels.”

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

He adds he doesn’t think it breaks the law.

“We certainly would’ve never pursued this if we had believed it would be unconstitutional. But that is of course for the courts to decide if they saw fit, and we would yield to the laws of our land as we would expect any other public entity to do,” he said. 

“I was totally surprised,” Pam Deering, executive director of Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Education said. “I do believe it’s going to be huge and I think it’s going to be a concern for our local communities that they could see their dollars that they paid for their taxes in their communities spread across the state to statewide virtuals.”

The Oklahoma Education Association says they’re concerned about the vote.

“[Preliminary projections show] it would be about $500 per student, taken away from a traditional public school sent to our charter school,” Alicia Priest with OEA said. 

She adds charter schools don’t have the same requirements as public schools, such as for hiring or transportation.

“They don’t have to play by the same rules public schools have to play by,” Priest said.

The superintendent of Clinton Public Schools says there could be big consequences.

“The financial ramifications for something like this could be massive,” Tyler Bridges said. “Building fund [would be] one of the biggest issues​.”

CCOSA says they’ll be asking lawmakers to step in. OEA says they’ll be looking at legislative and legal options.

The Oklahoma City Public Schools Response:

“The action taken by the Oklahoma State Board of Education last Thursday was a blindside to many, including to our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who serves as the President of the State Board. There can be no doubt that this unlawful action, if successful, will have a significant impact on our OKCPS students, as well as public school students in every district in Oklahoma — especially at a time when common education is already critically underfunded. 

From the moment we were made aware of the State Board’s actions on Thursday, OKCPS has been in constant communication with public school districts across the state, as well as our legal counsel, to discuss our next steps. 

While I certainly don’t know all of the details of the State Board’s actions and what led up to them, I am more than concerned about the route that it appears the board took to achieve a desired outcome. It lacks the transparency that we should all expect, appears to have been pre-planned, and causes me to have serious doubts about the State Board’s ability to advocate for the interests of the 90% of Oklahoma students who attend traditional non-charter public schools. 

I applaud Superintendent Hofmeister for her efforts to inform the full board of the inappropriateness of the action that was eventually taken. I am hopeful that the State Board of Education will immediately reconsider their reckless and harmful decision.”

OKCPS Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel

Governor Stitt responded several days after the vote was taken.

“I commend the State Board of Education for its lawful decision to uphold current statute and affirm that charter schools are public schools.

“This decision is the right one for Oklahoma students. The COVID pandemic has shown us that students learn in a variety of different ways and there is no one-size-fits-all school for every student. Public school students should not be punished for succeeding in a charter school setting. Further, existing statute makes clear that charter schools are eligible for local revenues.

“The State Board’s decision is a lawful solution to a problem that has existed for years and predates my time as governor. But let me be clear: I was hired to bring a fresh set of eyes to all areas of government, including, and perhaps most importantly, the way we educate future generations. Oklahoma’s 40+ year stagnant approach is not working. Being ranked among the bottom five states in the nation for education is unacceptable to me and I know it’s unacceptable to Oklahomans, so I will do everything I can to ensure Oklahoma becomes a Top Ten state in education and that includes supporting all public school students in the same way.”

Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma Governor