48 school districts in the state of Oklahoma are currently suing the State of Oklahoma, including State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, the Oklahoma Tax Commission, and Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller, over funding issues that they allege have been occurring over the past 22 years.
The issues are a result of the Oklahoma Department of Education neglecting to use a calculation required by law to determine funding for school districts between 1992 and 2014. This calculation takes into account property-tax revenue from agricultural and commercial personal property.
“Neither the Oklahoma state Tax Commission nor the Oklahoma state Department of Education has followed the law until very recently,” said Ponca City Superintendent David Pennington. “As a consequence, the taxpayer funds that should have stayed in these local school districts have been diverted to other districts where taxpayers paid a lower rate.”
Education professionals from around the state believe that this miscalculation has been unfair to students.
“We simply believe that what has happened to our children and our taxpayers is unfair and deserves to be remedied,” the Ponca City Superintendent stated. Mike Garde, Muskogee Public Schools superintendent, says that the state owes his district $3.7 million dollars.
“I think it is a matter of fair equity. What is fair is fair. We were underfunded. Citizens of this county paid that extra money. It should have stayed here. It needs to come back here,” Garde stated. “They received an additional three million dollars; Muskogee paid it back.”
Smaller school districts around the state are also suffering from this issue. The miscalculation has cost Millwood Public Schools about $400,000, which amounts to around 7 percent of its budget.
“We’re a pretty small school district but that’s a significant number for us,” said Millwood Public Schools Superintendent Cecilia Robinson Woods. “I think so often, especially with the cuts going on around the state, people don’t understand the fight that schools have to have just to stay adequately funded.”
The previous state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi acknowledged the issue in late 2014, stating that she did had not received the necessary data from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
The Education Department corrected the issue in 2015, and paid schools the proper amount, but this did not make up for previous improper amounts. Oral arguments for the case in front of the State Supreme Court are scheduled for April 26th.