An Oklahoma state law that helps fund schools, passed 23 years ago, was never implemented, and now 48 school districts are seeking action from the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of the school district and names Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, Treasurer Ken Miller and the Oklahoma Tax Commission as defendants. Every school district across the state has been given the wrong amount of money every year since 1991, the lawsuit alleges, a charge former State Superintendent Janet Barresi confirmed in 2014.
More than 150 districts are being short-changed funds, a group called Oklahoma Schools for Fair Funding said Monday. Just under 50 are participating in legal action, including Oklahoma City Public Schools. The law was intended to give districts extra money when taxes over a certain level. That money would go to local districts instead of the state. But that law was never implemented. The cap on property taxes has resulted in districts not getting the right amount of money now for some 20 years. And the fix means some districts will lose money, while some will gain.
The lawsuit seeks the defendants to “fufill its statutory duty” to determine the amount of money owed districts from 1991 until this year, “as a result of the [Department of Education’s] acknowledged failure to follow the plain language of” Oklahoma law. It started with Ponca City superintendent Dr. David Pennington some 10 years ago, as he struggled to figure out why his calculations of how much his district should get—always came up short. In a press conference announcing the lawsuit, Pennington said his district is estimated to have lost $14 million.
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