Accusing the state legislative leaders of “ignoring their constitutional responsibility to provide textbooks for every child by eliminating funding for instructional materials,” the Oklahoma City Board of Education voted unanimously last week to pursue legal action against the state legislature. Oklahoma City Public Schools were compelled to cut $30 million from their budget in 2016-2017 because of cut backs in textbook funding and other unfunded legislative mandates. Board members said that they expect other districts to join with them in this suit.
Two previous challenges to the state system for funding public education had been rejected by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In 1987, plaintiffs were denied relief in an equal protection case and in 2007, 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.” (View full Oklahoma litigation history.)
Plaintiffs hope to distinguish these precedents by arguing that the advent of standards-based reforms provides the court with judicially manageable standards and justifies re-considering the justiciability issue. In addition, they note that there has been significant turnover on the state supreme court since 2007.