Oklahoma Board Delays Decision On Special Needs Funding Law

Thursday, October 21st 2010, 8:46 am
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright and NewsOn6.com

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The State Board of Education said Thursday it will take no action yet on the implementation of a new state law that has been rejected by several school districts.

The board met in executive session Thursday morning and said it feels it should consult with the Attorney General's office before making a final decision.

The Legislature passed the law and Gov. Brad Henry signed House Bill 3393 earlier this year. It requires public schools to fund private school scholarships for special education students.

Several large Tulsa-area districts, including Jenks, Broken Arrow, Bixby, and Union have said in recent weeks that they will not pay parents who request a publicly funded scholarship so their special needs children can attend a private school.

State Superintendent Sandy Garret is not happy with the districts' decision, but this conflict will remain in legal limbo for now

Officials in those districts claim the law is unconstitutional.

Tulsa Public Schools voted earlier this week to approve the six scholarship requests it has received so far. But the district said it will not accept any future applications until the courts make a ruling.

The lawmaker who wrote the controversial bill says the whole conflict is unprecedented.

"There's no penalty in the legislation for school boards that would do this because no one has done it before," said Representative Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.

HB 3393 requires schools to use public funding to send special needs students to private school. Jenks, Union, Bixby and Owasso have voted not to comply at all.

All have argued that HB 3393 is unconstitutional, but its author says that's not a school's decision to make.

"What's ironic about it is that they're concerned about the bill violating the Constitution. In fact, that's exactly what they're doing by their actions," Nelson said.

Several parents of special needs students made the trip from Tulsa Wednesday. They say the looming legal battle is unfortunate.

"It's sad that the system has to go through all these mechanics to arrive at the place we would have been at anyway. It's very strange," said parent Gerald Buckley.

As the conflict continues, and if the case eventually enters into the courts, they promise to be there every step of the way.

"There are a lot of unheard from voices yet in this fight, but it's only beginning," said Tim Fisher, parent.

Representative Nelson says of all the actions taken by local districts, TPS's is the most flagrant violation of law. He says paying for six scholarships, while refusing to honor any others, is blatant discrimination.

10/19/2010 Related Story: Task Force To Probe Special Education In Tulsa Schools

The Associated Press contributed to this story.