Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds school funding measure

Wednesday, June 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld a 1999 law Tuesday that permits cities and towns to provide financial support to local school districts.

The law was the basis of a $512 million school improvement sales tax issue in Oklahoma City that passed in November, as well as a successful 1999 sales-tax vote in Lawton.

Opponents claim the law is an attempt to circumvent a constitutional provision requiring 60 percent voter approval of school bond projects.

In a 14-page ruling, the Supreme Court said the statute allows cities and towns to levy sales taxes ``for the legitimate public purpose of adequately financing public school systems'' within their corporate limits.

The court said officials in Oklahoma City and Lawton were pursuing ``a lawful public function'' when they adopted ordinances to levy taxes to support public schools.

``A municipality's economic development plan that encompasses improvement of the public school districts located within that municipality serves a legitimate public purpose,'' the high court said.

The Lawton sales tax is expected to bring in $45.5 million over the next five years, with $12.2 million going to Lawton's public schools.

The Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area Public Schools Trust will collect revenues raised for local schools. Seventy percent will go to the Oklahoma City school district and the balance will be divided among 23 suburban districts.

Justice Marian Opala dissented from the decision. Opala said he believes the 1999 law violates the constitutional prohibition against special laws that regulate the affairs of school districts.