Oklahoma Approves Nation’s First Religious Charter School

Jillian Schneider | June 7, 2023

(The Lion) — Oklahoma education officials approved the first-ever religious charter school on Monday, propelling school choice into unprecedented territory.

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 in favor of a virtual Catholic charter school after initially rejected its earlier application in April.

The new vote was celebrated for supporting religious liberty and parental choice.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, an outspoken supporter of education choice, said the decision was “a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state.”

“Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination,” he added.  

Another supporter was State Superintendent Ryan Walters.

“This decision reflects months of hard work, and more importantly, the will of the people of Oklahoma,” read Walter’s press release. “We will make sure every Oklahoma parent has the opportunity to decide what is best for their child.”

Opposition to the decision mostly centers on debate about its constitutionality. 

In February, state Attorney General Gentner Drummond repealed his predecessor’s approval of the legality of religious charter schools.  

“The approval of a charter school by one faith would compel the approval of charter schools by all faiths, even most Oklahomans would consider reprehensible and unworthy of public funding,” Drummond wrote. 

Drummond released an additional statement yesterday condemning the board’s decision as unconstitutional and saying a lawsuit is likely to follow.   

One group, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is already threatening legal action.  

However, if the approval of the Catholic charter school is challenged in court, it has the support of three recent Supreme Court rulings which affirm that public funds can’t be withheld from religious institutions simply because they are religious. 

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa are preparing to launch St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School.  

“We are elated that the board agreed with our argument and application for the nation’s first religious charter school,” said Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma. “Parents continue to demand more options for their kids, and we are committed to help provide them.”