Brad Brooks of Reuters writes that the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board rejected an application by the Catholic Church to create the first taxpayer-funded, religious charter school in the United States.
If approved, any religious school would almost certainly result in a legal battle over how to define the separation of church and state. The conservative justices of the Supreme Court have generally taken a broad view of religious freedom in education over the past three years.
An Oklahoma school board on Tuesday unanimously rejected the Catholic Church’s application to create the first taxpayer-funded religious charter school in the U.S., taking a first step toward a long legal battle testing the concept of separation of church and state.
Roman Catholic organizers propose creating the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School to offer an online education for kindergarten through high school initially for 500 students and eventually 1,500.
The school would cost Oklahoma taxpayers up to $25.7 million over its first five years of operation, its organizers said. The idea came from the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. The law school at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution in Indiana, helped with the application.
Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, said St. Isidore is intended primarily to meet the needs of rural families who desire a Catholic education but do not live close to any physical schools.
Farley, whose organization represents the church on public policy issues, said the recent Supreme Court decisions made him optimistic that the justices would eventually allow a publicly funded Catholic charter school.
Board chairman Franklin said parents, teachers and many groups representing public education had contacted him to say they are vexed and opposed to the archdiocese’s application.
The proposal’s critics worry about the consequences of allowing taxpayer-funded religious schools.
“Americans need to wake up to the reality that religious extremists are coming for our public schools,” said Rachel Laser, president of the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.