While some government money already goes to religious schools, St. Isidore would be fully paid for by the government.
From The New York Times:
Oklahoma approved what would be the nation’s first religious charter school on Monday, handing a victory to Christian conservatives but opening the door to a constitutional battle over whether taxpayer dollars can directly fund religious schools.
The online school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, is to be run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, with religious teachings embedded in the curriculum.
But as a charter school — a type of public school that is independently managed — it would be funded by taxpayer dollars.
After a nearly three-hour meeting, and despite concerns raised by its legal counsel, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved the school in a 3-to-2 vote, including a yes vote from a member who was appointed on Friday. The relatively obscure board is made up of appointees by Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican who supports religious charter schools, and leaders of the Republican-controlled State Legislature.
The decision sets the stage for a high-profile legal fight over the barrier between church and state in education, at a time when other aspects of public education are being challenged. Seizing on debates over parents’ rights, Republican lawmakers, including in Oklahoma, have increasingly pushed for alternatives to public schools, such as vouchers and tax credits, which offer subsidies to parents to help pay for private tuition, often at religious schools.
While some government money already goes to religious schools — for example, Hasidic schools in New York City receive public money through various programs while also charging tuition — St. Isidore would be fully paid for by the government.
Within minutes of the vote, Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced that it was preparing legal action to fight the decision.
“It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families,” said Rachel Laser, the group’s president and chief executive. “This is a sea change for American democracy.”
Brett Farley, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, which represents the Catholic Church on policy issues in Oklahoma and was behind the proposal, said he welcomed a legal challenge, pointing to recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that have signaled support for directing taxpayer money to religious schools.
In a statement, the governor applauded the decision.
“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,” [Gov. Kevin] Stitt said.
“Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice,” the governor added. “Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination.”