Oklahoma School Board Approves Nation's First Publicly Funded Religious Charter School
The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board made a significant decision by voting 3–2 to grant approval to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa for the establishment of a groundbreaking online school. The newly sanctioned educational institution, named St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, will be the first religious charter school in the United States to receive public funding. This development is anticipated to serve as a pivotal test case concerning the legality of taxpayer support for religious education across the nation. Proponents of school choice, particularly social conservatives, have long advocated for expanded options that include religious instruction for families.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt expressed his satisfaction with the approval, stating, “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 Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement.
Brett Farley, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, highlighted the significance of the decision, describing it as "a watershed moment in the school-choice movement." Farley emphasized the aim of the new charter school to continue providing the quality Catholic education that Catholic schools are known for. He further emphasized that religion is an integral part of the school's ethos, stating, "Religion is 'baked into everything we do.'"
The Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, which manages public policy and government affairs for the archdiocese, will oversee the operations of the new charter school. St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School intends to incorporate Catholic teachings into its daily curriculum and plans to enroll students from kindergarten to twelfth grade by the fall of 2024. The archdiocese stated that the establishment of this religious school aims to address the needs of approximately 500 students residing in remote areas of the state where access to parochial schools is limited. Supporters of the initiative argue that many rural families currently face challenges due to the distance to the nearest parochial school and the lack of adequate religious education opportunities.
Following the announcement, the atheist advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State promptly declared their intention to contest the decision in court, expressing their disagreement with the allocation of public funds to a religiously affiliated educational institution.