Oklahoma board approves Catholic charter school contract

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An Oklahoma school authority on Monday gave the thumbs-up to a contract for the nation’s first religious charter school, a virtual Catholic institution that is facing challenges from advocates who claim the school would violate state law. 

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board (OSVCSB) on Monday afternoon met in part to discuss “possible action regarding [the] St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School Charter Contract.” In that meeting, the board ultimately voted to approve the contract 3-2. 

Archdiocese of Oklahoma City spokesman Avery Holt told CNA on Tuesday morning that the archdiocese was “excited to be one step closer to providing new education opportunities for families in great need in Oklahoma.” 

The school “will do a final review of the contract in the coming days,” Holt said.

The OSVCSB in June voted to approve the school’s application after having rejected it earlier. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt in June called the approval decision “a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state.”

State Attorney General Gentner Drummond, on the other hand — also a Republican — said after the application’s approval that the project was “unconstitutional.”

“The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” Drummond claimed, arguing that the board members “violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars.”

Following the application approval, several activist groups also sued the state to block further development of the project. The Freedom From Religion Foundation said in a statement that it was “unconscionable” for Oklahoma to “be funding such an obviously sectarian religious school.”

That suit is currently ongoing. Last month the Oklahoma State Department of Education filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In that filing, the state argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has “held that religious organizations like St. Isidore are eligible for generally available public benefits … without offending the Establishment Clause” of the U.S. Constitution.

School officials are aiming to have St. Isidore up and running by next year and hope to serve 1,500 students after five years in operation. 

A charter school is a privately managed institution that receives public funding like standard public schools. 

Long a flashpoint of contention in U.S. education, charter schools are regularly the target of criticism from public school advocates, who claim the schools enjoy access to public money without accompanying public oversight.

Supporters of charter schools, meanwhile, argue that they offer critical education opportunities to large numbers of students who might otherwise be underserved by public school systems. 

On its website, St. Isidore says its “primary goal … is to assist parents in the important responsibility of developing the heart, mind, and soul of their child.” 

“The St. Isidore Catholic Virtual School envisions a learning opportunity for all students whose parents desire a quality Catholic education for their child regardless of where they live in Oklahoma,” the school says. 

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