State Education Could Be Caught In The Middle Of Gaming Compact Dispute
*Editors Note: This story has been updated March 9 to add the attorney general opinion of A.G. Mike Hunter and Gov. Kevin Stitt's response to the opinion.
State education funding could be caught in the middle of the governor and the tribes’ dispute over gaming.
Gaming fees make up more than 5% of public education funding. In fiscal year 2019, tribes paid more than $130 million into public education.
The first tribal fee payment since the governor declared most gambling illegal on Jan. 1 is due next month.
If Gov. Kevin Stitt turns away those funds that he said would have been obtained illegally, that could set up a multi-million-dollar education budget hole.
“The Oklahoma Education Association doesn’t have a position on the fight between the governor and the tribes,” OEA President Alicia Priest said. “However, both sides affect public education funding and our students are counting on them to come to an agreement.”
At a press conference on Thursday, Stitt would not say if he will accept the payment next month, a move some say would show he’s losing the battle.
“I’m not going to get into what I’m going to strategy-wise on the specific fees, but I will protect teachers. I will protect students,” he said.
"The tribes will continue to make their exclusivity fee payments under the compact. There's no question or confusion on our part," Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman Matt Morgan said.
In a statement to News 9, Stitt said in part, “We are working on a plan to protect public education while this is addressed in court. I will not allow teachers’ and students’ resources to be unnecessarily disrupted by the tribes’ lawsuit.”
The governor responded to a federal lawsuit by the state's most powerful tribes Wednesday and put the blame on the tribes for refusing to engage in negotiations.
The tribes said negotiations aren't necessary because the agreement automatically renews.
“What we would hope from this is that the adults in the room could come to an agreement and could think of not only the short-term but the long-term wins for all of Oklahomans,” Priest said.
Attorney General Mike Hunter released the following opinion March 9:
In response to the opinion of Hunter, Governor Kevin Stitt issued a statement saying:
“I am grateful the attorney general has agreed there is a way to protect public education funding without jeopardizing the legal position of the state. It is important that our schools not be caught in the middle while we work toward a long-term solution.”