This week, I’d like to discuss how traditional public schools are funded as compared to charter schools.

The base of financial support for traditional public schools comes from local taxes, including: 1) district dollars (ad valorem taxes) and 2) dedicated dollars (motor vehicle taxes, gross production tax, motor fuel and cigarette taxes).

Local taxpayers own and maintain all traditional public school buildings. A 60% supermajority approval by the district's taxpayers is statutorily-required for any additional funding of new buildings or improvements.

The Oklahoma Education Funding Formula was first created in 1981, amended in 1987, and again in 1996.  It was created to provide an equalization component between those schools fortunate of having local wealth and the requirements of the state to appropriate dollars to lower income districts.

The equalization components under this two-tiered system of using both local dollars and the supplemental state appropriation are to ensure each student attending a traditional public school has the equal opportunity to receive a quality education.

There are currently 39 traditional public school districts that don’t receive a state appropriation because of their local wealth. There are an additional 67 traditional public school districts that do receive per student Foundation Aid because of the district's local wealth.

As a traditional public school district’s locally-assessed wealth decreases, the state is supposed to provide the appropriate dollars as supplemental in this equalization component.

Traditional public schools were created under Article 13 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Both types of charter schools were created by the legislature. Subsequently, charter schools don’t have access to local dollars since local taxpayers aren’t included in determining their funding.

The Oklahoma Education Funding Formula never considered charters in the equalization component. Both the charter and virtual charter schools were created by the legislature, and therefore, cannot receive the local dollars that are constitutionally-restricted to fund local public school districts.

The Funding Formula was created years before charter schools existed. Subsequently, both the charter and the virtual charter schools must receive their dollars from state appropriation. 

In a July 11, 2019 statement regarding charter funding, a charter school spokesperson surmised that since both the charter and the virtual charter schools receive their dollars from the same statute provision, they’re subsequently the same under that statute.

The virtual charter school spokeswoman concluded in her statement that all students enrolled in the virtual charter school are virtual students, regardless if they were counted in student attendance at its virtual charter school or attended the brick and mortar charter school it manages, which is sponsored by a community college.

However, 70 O.S. 3-145.1 and 70 O.S. 3-145.5 statutorily designates students as "virtual" only if they attend a virtual charter school sponsored by the Statewide Virtual Charter Board. All charter schools are statutorily charter schools. The "Contract" with its sponsor determines its statutory compliance requirements.

On August 1, the OSDE will make its allocation of state-appropriated dollars to both the charter and virtual charter school sites. Both brick and mortar charter and virtual charter schools receive 1.333 for each student based on its year-end Average Daily Membership (ADM). Then the following December, weights are added to the charter students, plus its added student enrollment.

The mid-term adjustment of state appropriation provided in December to the charter and virtual charter schools is a serious problem for the traditional public school since both types of charters get this state funding first.  Traditional public schools receive whatever is left.

The traditional public school districts that need the state-appropriated dollars the most in the two-tiered equalization education funding formula are the ones that are most adversely affected by this redirection of funds away from them to charter schools.

Subsequently, if a charter or virtual charter school pads its enrollment numbers with "ghost students" to receive more state appropriated dollars, the less affluent traditional public schools that desperately need those state dollars are hit hard by the reduced allocation to their anticipated funds. 

This equalization component of the Oklahoma Education Funding Formula is now out of balance because of adding charter schools. If a charter school cheats on its enrollment numbers, it devastates the traditional public schools.

            To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 412, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at sharp@oksenate.gov, or call (405) 521-5539.