The state of Oklahoma approved the country’s first-ever religious charter school on Monday. The move will allow public funds to pay the tuition of children attending an online Catholic school run by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.
The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to approve St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in a three-hour-long meeting. The “yes” votes included a new member who was appointed by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday.
In a statement, the governor applauded the decision.
“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,” Stitt said.
“Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice,” the governor added. “Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination.”
Because charter schools are public schools funded by taxpayers, the decision to fund a religiously affiliated charter school is already coming under legal scrutiny. Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond rebuked the board’s vote and said the action was unconstitutional.
“The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” Drummond said. “It’s extremely disappointing that board members violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars. In doing so, these members have exposed themselves and the state to potential legal action that could be costly.”
State Superintendent Ryan Walters disagreed with the attorney general, stating that the move expands school choice.
“This decision reflects months of hard work and, more importantly, the will of the people of Oklahoma,” Walters said. “I encouraged the board to approve this monumental decision, and now the U.S.’s first religious charter school will be welcomed by my administration. I have fought for school choice in all forms and this further empowers parents. We will make sure every Oklahoma parent has the opportunity to decide what is best for their child.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot discriminate against religiously affiliated schools in its school voucher programs. However, the constitutionality of charter schools run by religious institutions has not yet come up.
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