School Funding Cases in Oklahoma

in Oklahoma Litigation

Historical Background

In 1987, in Fair School Finance Council of Oklahoma v. State, 746 P.2d 1135 (1987), the Supreme Court of Oklahoma rejected an equal protection challenge to the state education finance system. The Court ruled that equal expenditures per child are not necessary to meet equal protection requirements.

In 1989, the Governor called a special session of the legislature in response to the landmark school finance decision in Kentucky. The legislature increased the state sales and income taxes to pay for the resulting plan, which reduced class size and raised teacher salaries.

On May 8, 2007, in Oklahoma Education Association v. State the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed a trial court opinion that plaintiffs’ adequacy challenge presented a non-justiciable political question. The court concluded that “Questions of fiscal and educational policy are vested in the Legislature, and its wisdom in these areas is not within the scope of this Court’s review.”

Plaintiffs’ arguments relied on the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s words in Fair School Finance Council v. State, in which the Court rejected a claim for school funding equity but said that students still have a right to a “basic adequate education.”

Recent Events

Forty-eight Oklahoma school districts sued the state superintendent, the state tax commission , and the state treasurer in March 2016 in order to recover millions of dollars in state aid that they say was wrongly apportioned  for the past 22 years. They are asking the state education department to recover “excessive’ funds that they claim were erroneously paid to other school districts during this time period and then require the state treasurer to then pay these funds over to them.

This situation arose from the state education department’s failure to apply a statutory 11% limit on the assessment of commercial and agricultural personal property in calculating state aid. The state tax commission apparently did not supply the education department with the data needed to make the proper calculations until 2014. In December 2014, the then superintendent of schools acknowledged the error, and the state distributed a special appropriation of $16.3 million to correct the distribution error for the 2015 fiscal year. The payments did not, however, go back and make up for improper distributions in prior years, and that is the relief that the petitioners are now seeking. Oklahoma City, the state’s largest school district, claims that it was unlawfully denied about $40 million that it, in joining with the other 47 school districts who also claim to have been short-changed, is now seeking to cover.  

Costing Out

While the state legislature has not released a 2005 costing-out study, the Oklahoma Education Association commissioned its own costing-out study, which found that the state needs to provide approximately $1 billion more in school operations funding and approximately $3 billion in facilities funding.

Last updated: June 2016

 

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