McAlester Public Schools joined several districts in challenging Oklahoma’s state board on a lawsuit settlement that allows charter schools to access more state and local money.
MPS Board of Education members unanimously voted during Monday’s regular meeting to authorize the district’s attorney to initiate legal action against the Oklahoma State Board of Education regarding its resolution approved March 25 that could make tens of millions more in public funds available to charter schools.
“I just think that schools have got to stand up when our constitution is being violated and we have trouble enough in funding our public schools,” MPS Superintendent Randy Hughes said of the district joining the challenge.
The Oklahoma Public Charter School Association filed a lawsuit against the state board in 2017 seeking a greater revenue share for charter schools from additional state and county funds.
State board members discussed a lawsuit settlement in executive session during their March 25 meeting. Board member Trent Smith moved after returning to open session to approve a lawsuit settlement.
Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told members before the vote that the settlement would violate Oklahoma’s constitution and state statute.
Board members Trent Smith, Brian Bobek, Jennifer Monies and Estela Hernandez voted to approve the resolution. Hofmeister, Bill Flanagan and Carlisha Bradley voted against it.
Charter schools only receive state appropriated funds — but the state board’s decision could allow them to tap into Oklahoma’s gross production, motor vehicle and rural electrification association tax collections, state school land earnings and county tax collections.
Oklahoma City Public Schools filed the first lawsuit challenging the state board’s decision on March 31 and several districts across the state followed suit.
Hughes said he believes the state board’s settlement violates the constitution and creates massive financial challenges for traditional schools.
“The pie is only so big and if you keep taking away to other entities, it just takes away from public ed,” Hughes said.
McAlester school officials voiced concern over losing state funding to the building fund for capital improvements.
Chad Gragg, MPS assistant superintendent of finance, said the district has used the building fund for improvements at Will Rogers and other campuses this year.
McAlester school officials said they don’t consider charter schools as public schools. Hughes and Gragg said public schools are free to the public, can’t turn away students, and must follow certain state requirements that often don’t apply to charter schools.
“If you don’t play by the same rules as public schools, you’re not a public school,” Gragg said.
The charter schools association claims in the lawsuit that charter schools are independently operated public schools with appointed boards.
Oklahoma statutes state charter schools can’t levy taxes or issue bonds. The state’s Charter Schools Act allocates state aid and other state-appropriated revenue to other schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at email@example.com.