Oklahoma Flunked Math, Public Schools Say

     OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — Four public school districts sued Oklahoma for millions of dollars Wednesday, claiming the state admits it’s shortchanged them for 22 years, but refuses to reimburse them because it would cost too much to do the math.
     The districts, including one in Oklahoma City, say the state acknowledged its error in 2014, but its Department of Education refuses to re-calculate the aid “because it would require ‘an extraordinary expenditure of working hours.'”
     Two school districts sued the superintendent of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the state Tax Commission, and the state treasurer, in Oklahoma County Court.
     Most local funding for U.S. public schools comes from property taxes. Because of built-in inequities between rich and poor districts, states have resorted to often labyrinthine methods in a search for fairness. The plaintiff districts claim Oklahoma “fail(ed) to apply the statutory 11 percent limit on the assessment of commercial and agricultural property (CAPP) in calculating state aid.”
     In other words, Oklahoma school funding is not based directly on property taxes, but on a percentage of the assessed value of the property, which is capped by law at 11 percent.
     But the Enid school district says it was assessed at 15 percent; the Ponca district was assessed at 14 percent, and the Oklahoma County districts at 13.75 percent. Tulsa, however, assesses CAPP at 10 percent, the lowest level allowed by the Oklahoma Constitution.
     As a result, the state “attribute(ed) excessive ‘chargeable’ revenue to plaintiffs, and thus reducing their allocations of state aid below the amounts called for by the state aid formula. This error persisted for 22 years.”
     Every school district’s allocation of state aid was miscalculated in every one of those 22 years, the districts say, and millions of dollars rightfully theirs were misdirected to other districts.
     They say the Oklahoma State Department of Education has recalculated its allocations to every school district for 2004 through 2014, and admit “that the financial disadvantage to plaintiffs was enormous. The OSDE’s calculations also demonstrate that the financial advantage to other school districts was similarly enormous.”
     The Department of Education’s refusal to correct the inequities “because it would require ‘an extraordinary expenditure of working hours,'” doesn’t cut it, the districts say.
     They seek writ of mandate ordering the state to do its statutory duty — do the math — and recover their overpayments and return it to them.
     Even if the districts win, it will not fix Oklahoma’s school finance system. According to the lawsuit, 49 of the state’s 77 counties assess CAPP at rates above 11 percent. Corrected calculations thus would reduce the state’s school funding enormously.
     The school districts are represented by Joe E. Edwards with Crowe & Dunlevy, in Oklahoma City.
     The districts — Numbers 52, 57, 71 and 89 — cover Oklahoma City, Midwest City and Del City, all in Oklahoma County; Enid, in Garfield County; and Ponca City, in Kay County.

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