A measure that authorized a statewide virtual charter school should be struck down because it violates a constitutional prohibition on placing multiple subjects into a single bill, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
An amendment was added to Senate Bill 1816 in the final hours of this year's session which requires the state Education Department to spend $30 million on textbooks for public school districts.
The Supreme Court in recent years has struck down several laws because they contained multiple subjects, a practice known as “logrolling.”
A hearing on the lawsuit before a Supreme Court referee is set for Dec. 4.
Jerry Fent, an Oklahoma City attorney who filed the lawsuit, said time is of the essence for the justices to rule on the matter because the legislation became effective at the start of this fiscal year, July 1, and money continues to be spent.
It is not too late to stop the measure because the state constitution requires money be allocated to state departments on a monthly basis, Fent said.
SB 1816 also is unconstitutional because the state constitution requires that general appropriation bills should consist of nothing but allocating money for the state and that “all other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing one subject,” he said.
“It violates two constitutional provisions,” Fent said.
Lawmakers had to scramble the last couple days to find a way to appropriate money to pay for textbooks for public schools.
The $6.8 billion state budget that legislators approved the final week of the session was said to contain $33 million for textbooks for public schools, but several legislators were disappointed to hear that state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi told Board of Education members on the second-to-last day of the session that she planned to use $11.5 million of the $33 million allocated for textbooks for other purposes.
The state House on the last day of the session passed SB 1816, which included language requiring the state Education Department, which received a $2.3 billion allocation from legislators, to spend $30 million on textbooks for public school districts. Some members were uneasy voting for the measure because the bill also authorized a statewide virtual charter school, a measure that barely passed earlier when it received the minimum 51 votes needed for passage. With the textbook funding amendment, the bill passed 84-10.