Several Oklahoma taxpayers filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a permanent injunction against Defendants, Joy Hofmeister, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Oklahoma State Department of Education; and the Oklahoma State Board of Education, (the "State") to enjoin the payment of tuition to private sectarian schools alleging the "Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act" (or "Scholarship Program") violated several articles of the Oklahoma Constitution. Both parties filed for summary judgment. The trial court granted in part and denied in part the parties' motions, finding the Act was constitutional on all challenged grounds except for one. The trial court entered a narrow Order ruling the Act violated the Oklahoma Constitution, Article II, Section 5, only to the extent it authorized public funds to pay the cost for students to attend private sectarian schools. This provision of the Constitution has been referred to as the "no aid" clause, prohibiting public money from being used for the benefit or support of religion. An injunction was issued to prevent payment to private religious schools, with no impact on the payment to private non-sectarian schools. The State appealed, arguing: (1) the payment to a sectarian school was permitted because it was for a valid public purpose and in exchange for consideration; and (2) the district court's construction of the Act created a religiosity distinction violating the U.S. Constitution's freedom of religion clause. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the district court's decision in part and found the Act did not violate the "no aid" clause. The Court did not reach defendants' second issue, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Oliver v. Hofmeister" on Justia Law
Initiative Petition No. 403 sought to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Article 13-C. The proposed article would create the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund, designed to provide for the improvement of public education in Oklahoma through an additional one-cent sales and use tax. Funds generated by the one-cent tax would be distributed to public school districts, higher education institutions, career and technology centers, and early childhood education providers for certain educational purposes outlined in the proposed article. Additionally, a percentage of the funds would be used to provide a $5,000.00 pay raise to all public school teachers. Opponents challenged the initiative, arguing it violated the one general subject rule of Art. 24, sec. 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Initiative Petition No. 403 did not violate the one general subject rule and was legally sufficient for submission to the people of Oklahoma. View "IN RE INITIATIVE PETITION NO. 403 STATE QUESTION NO. 779" on Justia Law
If funds are available, the Educational Leadership Oklahoma Act (Act) provides for bonuses to eligible teachers who attain national certification. In the past, the State Board of Education provided the full amount of bonuses and any additional amounts necessary to cover the payroll withholding taxes on the bonuses. In 2010, the Board didnât pay the withholding taxes. Teachers filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Board should have paid the withholding taxes on their bonuses. The trial court found that because the School District was not liable for the bonus payments under the Act, the State Department of Education was, and payment of the bonuses was conditioned on the availability of funds to pay them from State. The court determined that the School District was required to use some of the allocated bonus money from the State to fund the Districtâs tax obligations. Furthermore, the court concluded that the Teachers sued the wrong party by suing the School District, so that it could not enter a judgment in their favor. Accordingly, district court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction. On appeal, the Supreme Court held that because the Teachers were State employees, and State was responsible for paying employer withholding taxes for the bonuses, the School District had to pay them. However, the Court found that the State did not have enough money to pay both the bonuses and the withholding taxâit only had enough to pay the bonuses. The Court affirmed the lower courtâs decision to dismiss the case.
Posted in: Education Law, Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law, Oklahoma Supreme Court