The Oklahoma School Board approves the first taxpayer-funded religious school in the United States


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma state school board voted Monday to authorize the nation’s first publicly funded religious school, despite warnings from the attorney general that the decision was unconstitutional.

The Virtual Charter School Statewide Board of Directors voted 3-2 to approve the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma’s motion to establish the St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School. The online public charter school would be open to students statewide from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond had warned the committee that such a decision clearly violated the Oklahoma Constitution.

“Permitting a publicly funded religious school violates Oklahoma law and is not in the best interests of taxpayers,” Drummond said in a statement shortly after the board vote. “It is extremely disappointing that board members have broken their oath to fund religious schools with our taxpayers’ money. As a result, these members have exposed themselves and the state to potential legal action that could be costly.”

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma said in the Organization’s Vision and Purpose section of its application, “The Catholic school participates in the evangelizing mission of the church and is the privileged environment in which Christian education is conducted.”

Brett Farley, executive director of the Oklahoma Catholic Conference, said, “We are delighted that the board has approved our reasoning and application for the nation’s first charter religious school.”

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State refused panel approval.

“It is hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the religious liberties of Oklahoma public school taxpayers and families than the state’s establishment of the nation’s first charter religious public school,” said Rachel Laser, the group’s president and CEO, in a statement. “This is a sea change for American democracy. Americans United will work with our Oklahoma and national partners to take all possible legal action to challenge this decision and defend the separation of church and state promised in both the Oklahoma and U.S. Constitutions.”

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who signed a bill into law earlier this year that would do so Give parents a tax incentive in the state to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, praised the board’s vote.

“This is a victory for freedom of religion and freedom of education in our great state, and I am encouraged by these efforts to give parents more choices when it comes to their child’s education,” Stitt said in a statement.

This story has been corrected to show that the name of the virtual charter is “St. Isidore of Seville” and not “St. Isidor” reads.

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