- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Forty-eight Oklahoma school districts filed a lawsuit Monday that alleges miscalculations of the state aid formula have resulted in millions of dollars in education funds being wrongfully distributed to other school districts over a 22-year period.

The districts asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to order the state Department of Education to correctly calculate their state aid between 1992 and 2014, collect any overpayments to other districts and redistribute the money. They said more than 150 state school districts and hundreds of thousands of children may have been affected by the errors.

“We simply believe that what has happened to our children and our taxpayers is unfair and deserves to be remedied,” David Pennington, superintendent of Ponca City Public Schools, said in a statement. He estimated that Ponca City has lost more than $13 million in state education funds, up to $40 million at Oklahoma City Public Schools and $4.5 million at Enid Public Schools.

“Reduced funding meant the children were in larger class sizes, which reduced the time that teachers could spend with each student,” Pennington said. “Reduced funding also meant children in crisis received little or no assistance to resolve those issues and succeed with their education.”

Education department spokeswoman Steffie Corcoran declined comment on the lawsuit. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 26.

Since 1991, state law has permitted counties with a tax assessment ratio above 11 percent for commercial and agricultural personal property to retain the extra revenue for local school funding. Oklahoma has a total of 49 counties with assessment ratios above 11 percent where school districts serve more than 417,000 students.

But the lawsuit says that in a December 2014 email to local school superintendents, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said the education department had incorrectly calculated state aid allocations for 22 years and didn’t correct it until the 2014-2015 school year.

Educators say the agency correctly followed similar provisions for property and structures in counties with assessment ratios above 12 percent.

The lawsuit states that representatives of the districts have asked the Department of Education “to acknowledge its clear legal duty to determine the extent of the unlawful overpayments” and recover them, but that officials have declined.

Pennington said that in the 2013-14 school year, educators believe more than $15 million dollars of local revenue that should have stayed in local school districts statewide was distributed to other school districts throughout the state.

“The diversion of funds violated state law, is unfair to the children and taxpayers in the local school districts and deserves to be remedied,” Pennington said.

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