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Supreme Court Strikes Down '65% Solution' School Initiative

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Supreme Court Tuesday invalidated an initiative petition to require 65% of school operational funds be spent in the classroom, ruling that brief written descriptions at the top of each signature page did not adequately describe the ballot measure.

The so-called ``65% solution,'' part of a national campaign spearheaded by Internet entrepreneur Patrick Byrne, was promoted by Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan last year in his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Sullivan was honorary chairman of the organization that circulated and filed the initiative petition, First Class Education. He said at the time that only 58 cents of every education dollar want to the classroom in Oklahoma and that raising it to 65 cents would mean $270 million more for school classrooms.

But the idea was challenged in a lawsuit by members of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. They said that requiring 65% of school funds to go to the classroom would cripple other student services like free lunches, transportation and medical services.

``Other areas would have suffered greatly,'' said Dr. Keith Ballard, executive director of the OSSBA.

``We are very much in favor of as much money as possible going into instruction,'' Ballard said. But that figure should be determined by local school boards, not the state, he said.

``I think that those who were behind this see the great resistance that this had in the education community,'' Ballard said. ``I hope they recognize this is a local decision.

``I don't think it was a political stunt. But it was not the right solution.''

Sullivan said he was disappointed in the Supreme Court's narrow 5-4 ruling and may pursue the idea with a new petition.

``I don't see it as a political issue so much as it is a social issue,'' Sullivan said. ``My disappointment is that the voters of Oklahoma will not be given an opportunity to put more money into the classroom without having to raise taxes.

``I think this is a good idea. It just makes more efficient use of taxpayer dollars,'' Sullivan said.

Justices ordered that the measure, Initiative Petition 384, also known as State Question 731, be stricken from the ballot because its gist _ the short statement at the top of signature pages _ was misleading and did not sufficiently inform the voter of the proposal.

The high court sidestepped other challenges raised by educators, including that the measure was unconstitutional.

The decision states that the main point of the measure should be ``a shorthand explanation of a proposition's terms'' and should explain the proposal's effect on exiting law.

The Supreme Court ruled the petition's gist was flawed because it did not discuss the possibility of legislative sanctions for non-conforming school districts and possible waivers by the state superintendent of schools.

``It defines 'classroom instructional expenditures' in mind-numbing detail taken directly from the statute, but fails to define 'operational expenditures' or disclose provisions for stepped or phased-in compliance, the additional authority given to the superintendent of public instruction to approve the school district budgets and waive noncompliance, and the possibility of legislative sanctions for noncomplying school districts,'' the decision states.

The high court said the omissions meant that the gist failed to alert voters of the effect the proposal might have on the balance of power between local school boards and the state.

``...A potential signatory, looking only at the gist, did not have sufficient information to make an informed decision about the true nature of the proposed legislation,'' the decision states.
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