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Politics and Government

Capitol Insider: Controversy Over Charter School Lawsuit Settlement

Robby Korth - StateImpact Oklahoma
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister

The State Board of Education voted 4-3 to accept an offer to settle a lawsuit with the Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association after State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister warned that the settlement was unconstitutional. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss that story and more from the last week at the state Capitol in Capitol Insider.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, on Thursday, the State Board of Education approved a settlement offer from the Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association involving a lawsuit alleging the state inequitably funded charter schools. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says the settlement is unconstitutional. What's the back story?

Shawn Ashley: Yes, this is nearly a four-year-old lawsuit that was filed in 2017 by the Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association. And what it did was to challenge the way charter schools receive their funding. Generally, they were unable to tap local funding and this agreement will allow them to do so. They will be able to tap such things as ad valorem tax revenue and motor vehicle tax collections that are then directed to local schools. Superintendent Hofmeister was very concerned about the resolution that was being considered and approved by the board because she said it does appear to violate the Oklahoma Constitution. It was approved on a four to three vote Thursday evening. We've really yet to hear from legislators regarding their reaction to it because it certainly could have some impact on state statutes and set in place some changes that they may have to make.

Dick Pryor: The legislature is back to committee work discussing bills from the opposite chamber. One bill has drawn a lot of public discussion, but there was not much talk as it passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. This is the bill that limits criminal and civil liability for drivers who injure or kill a person while fleeing from what they believe is a riot. A similar bill failed in a House committee. What spurred these bills?

Shawn Ashley: Both these bills seem to arise out of the protest we saw over the summer where in some instances motor vehicles were surrounded and the individuals in them perhaps felt threatened by what was going on around them. Both bills would provide that civil and criminal liability protection if they attempt to flee those situations and injure or perhaps even kill someone in the process. In the case of House Bill 1674, which advanced from the Senate Public Safety Committee, only Senator Michael Brooks asked about the bill and cast the only vote against it. We saw in the House Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee a number of people asking questions about the bill, particularly Representative Judd Strom, who said it might close the door to the courthouse for people who were injured in seeking civil or criminal prosecution. That bill still has an opportunity to advance at a future meeting if that tie can be broken.

Dick Pryor: On Wednesday, there was only one item on the Senate agenda, and the Senate will only work three days in the week ahead. What's going on behind the scenes as lawmakers advance toward the April 8th deadline for acting on most bills in committee?

Shawn Ashley: Well, with fewer than 900 bills remaining on the overall agenda for lawmakers it's really about getting your bill heard now before that April 8th deadline, as well as getting any amendments to those bills put in place. We saw in the Senate general government committee meeting on Thursday, for example, a long discussion about the major medical marijuana legislation this year with the author of that bill, Senator Zack Taylor, promising to work with lawmakers to address some of their concerns about the bill, particularly six amendments that were added on the House floor.

Dick Pryor: The one item on Wednesday's Senate floor agenda was a resolution proclaiming the week of March 22nd to be "Meat Week" in Oklahoma. The resolution encouraged people to eat more meat. We see these kinds of resolutions on a regular basis. What's the rationale behind resolutions that have no force of law but promote an idea?

Shawn Ashley: Well, really, you sort of have to look at them in context. And during the prior week, lawmakers were involved in the Oklahoma Youth Expo, a spring stock show which helps raise money for agricultural programs across the state. So, we saw the house declare "Eat Meat Week." We also saw the governor issue a proclamation declaring "Eat Meat Week" on Tuesday. It was also Oklahoma Agriculture Day and the House passed a resolution designating March 23rd "Oklahoma Agriculture Day." So all of these things sort of have to be taken in context when you consider them.

Dick Pryor: So now you know the story behind "Meat Week." Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

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