In a landmark decision on Monday, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 in favor of establishing St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, making it the first taxpayer-funded religious school in the nation. Despite concerns raised by state officials and advocacy groups regarding the decision’s constitutionality, the approval sets the stage for a potential test case on the issue of religious public schools before the Supreme Court.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond expressed his opposition, citing the decision as a violation of Oklahoma law and the best interests of taxpayers. Drummond raised concerns over potential legal action and the use of tax dollars to fund religious schools. However, the concept of a religious charter school garnered support from other Republican leaders in the state, including Governor Kevin Stitt, who hailed the decision as a win for religious liberty and education freedom.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma, which will oversee the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, has been clear about its intention to promote the Catholic faith and operate according to church doctrine. This raises questions about the school’s adherence to federal non-discrimination requirements, particularly in matters concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.
Previously, the board had rejected the school’s application over concerns regarding governance structure, provisions for special education students, and the segregation of private and public funds. However, after the archdiocese made adjustments and resubmitted the application, the board approved the school’s establishment.
The approval of a religious charter school challenges a state law requiring public schools to be independent of religious control. Advocates argue that recent Supreme Court rulings prevent the exclusion of private entities, including religiously affiliated schools, from participating in public programs such as education.
Despite the controversy, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, representing the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, has expressed its commitment to a protracted legal battle. The church officials view this as a major priority and are prepared to see it through, regardless of the outcome.
While supporters of the decision see it as an expansion of education options and an affirmation of religious liberty, opponents, such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argue that the approval violates the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public school communities. They stress that charter schools should be secular and open to all students, ensuring that no public school family faces the prospect of their child being compelled to take theology classes or facing expulsion for failing to conform to religious doctrines.
As the nation’s first taxpayer-funded religious school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School’s approval by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board paves the way for a potentially groundbreaking legal battle. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for the future of religious charter schools and the interpretation of religious freedom in public education.