OK School Board Approves Nation's First Publicly Funded Religious Charter School
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An Oklahoma school board has voted to approve the nation's first publicly funded religious school, but opponents are threatening to sue to stop the school from getting public funds.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma overcame a major hurdle Monday after Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to approve a charter application from the school.
The Archdiocese wanted to establish the St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Catholic Charter School as an online public charter choice for parents. Now the school will be open for the 2024-2025 school year to students across the state in kindergarten through grade 12. It is estimated that about 400-500 students will attend.
"This is a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state, and I am encouraged by these efforts to give parents more options when it comes to their child's education," Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt wrote in a statement.
In February, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City asked Oklahoma taxpayers to support the development of a virtual charter school. In April, the school board unanimously shot down the 400-page application citing eight concerns the school needed to address before it could be approved.
That list included appropriate accommodations for special education, the school's pedagogical approach, its governance and management, connectivity and technology for virtual learning, its funding structure, measuring school and student outcomes, likely lawsuits that would arise, and issues with its application's consistency, NPR reports.
The school "vision and purpose" portion of the application states, "The Catholic school participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church and is the privileged environment in which Christian education is carried out." The school does not require students to be Catholic but they will adhere to biblical views on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"We are elated that the board agreed with our argument and application for the nation's first religious charter school," Brett Farley, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, said after the decision.
"Parents continue to demand more options for their kids, and we are committed to help provide them," he added.
The journey for the Catholic charter school is far from over as opponents, such as the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, are vowing to take legal action to stop the school from receiving public funds.
"It's hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families," the group's president and CEO Rachel Laser said in a statement.
She continued, "This is a sea change for American democracy. Americans United will work with our Oklahoma and national partners to take all possible legal action to fight this decision..."
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond had also told the board that he thinks allowing Oklahoma's taxpayers to have a religious charter choice would violate the Oklahoma Constitution.
"The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers," Drummond said in a statement. "...These members have exposed themselves and the state to potential legal action that could be costly."
The school said they are not afraid of lawsuits.
"We're not surprised by the threat of a suit, but we will be preparing if they choose to file one," Farley said. "This is a question that ultimately needs to be answered by the courts, perhaps by the US Supreme Court."
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