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Oklahoma Department of Education denied motion to intervene in St. Isidore lawsuit

(From left to right) Board members Nellie Sanders, Scott Strawn and William Pearson listen to the Attorney General Office's representative at an April 2023 board meeting.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
(From left to right) Board members Nellie Sanders, Scott Strawn and William Pearson listen to the Attorney General Office's representative at an April 2023 board meeting.

The State Supreme Court denied a motion Tuesday from Oklahoma’s Department of Education to intervene in a lawsuit brought by the state attorney general against the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed the suit last month against the Board for approving a contract with the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School — which would be the nation’s first publicly funded religious school.

Last week, the State Department of Education filed a motion to be named as one of the parties in a lawsuit.

In the motion, the state department argued because it distributes funds to schools, it should be party to the suit. But Drummond wrote in his objection the department’s duty to disperse state funds is no more than a “binary, ministerial act.”

Drummond argues if the court determines the contract with St. Isidore to be illegitimate, the department couldn’t distribute funds to a non-existent charter school. If it sides with the Charter School Board, the department will dole out whatever amount of funds is determined by the legislature. Either way, Drummond said, that doesn’t give them standing.

“The Movants [OKSDE] bizarrely argue that the ministerial duty of correctly apportioning state aid funds to sponsored public charter schools and to all qualifying public schools pursuant to a legislatively-created formula is an interest that may be impeded or impaired by this original jurisdiction action. That is decidedly not the case,” Drummond writes. “To argue otherwise would necessarily result in the flawed reasoning that the Movants possess discretion to apportion state aid to non-chartered private schools.”

Drummond also argues that OKSDE’s claim the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board doesn’t have the resources necessary to defend itself is contradicted by the board’s decision to hire outside legal counsel, as well as receive pro bono representation from the national group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Lastly, the attorney general argues OKSDE’s suggestion that the court will decide on the allocation of state aid “misstates the issues” in the case. Drummond is seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the charter school board to rescind its contract with St. Isidore.

“At worst, the Movants [OKSDE] do not know their role relative to school funding,” Drummond writes. “At best, the Movants misrepresent their role and severely strain the relief sought by Petitioner [Drummond] in an attempt to insert themselves into this action.”

The State Supreme Court did not go into detail in its reasoning for denying the OKSDE’s motion to intervene.

The St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School also filed a motion to intervene, which was granted.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Beth reports on education topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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