On Monday, Oklahoma sanctioned St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, marking the establishment of the nation’s first religious charter school. With a 3-2 vote, The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved the school, funded by taxpayers and operated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
Scheduled to launch in late 2024, St. Isidore intends to provide holistic education targeting the “soul, heart, intellect, and body” of about 500 students from kindergarten to grade 12. The institution, named after the internet’s patron saint, will incorporate religious teaching into its curriculum. The school expects to receive approximately $23.3 million in state funding for its initial five years, reports the BBC.
The decision to endorse a religious charter school, however, has drawn disagreement among Oklahoma’s top Republicans. While Governor Kevin Stitt commended the board’s approval as a victory for “religious liberty and education freedom,” Oklahoma’s Republican attorney general, Gentner Drummond, deemed the decision against state law and taxpayers’ best interest.
The controversial decision is likely to face legal obstacles. Advocacy groups, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU have announced legal challenges against the school’s constitutionality, stressing that public schools should be devoid of religious indoctrination.
The case brings into focus past rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 and 2022, which broadened states’ ability to indirectly fund religious schools through voucher programs. Supporters of St. Isidore’s approval maintain that barring religious schools from charter funding breaches their rights under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.