Fresh off enacting a tax credit program tied to private school education, Oklahoma will directly fund a religious charter school — a move the state’s attorney general called unconstitutional and potentially costly for the state to defend.

In a 3-2 vote Monday, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved an application from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School to become an online public charter school. 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters said he encouraged the board’s “monumental decision” for the nation’s first publicly funded religious charter school. 

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, a Republican, warned litigation is likely after a contract is signed for the school.

“The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” he said in a statement. “In doing so, these (board) members have exposed themselves and the state to potential legal action that could be costly.”

Oklahoma has seven existing accredited virtual charter schools, which are funded through the state’s education department based on student enrollment. They receive no local funding and do not have bonding capacity. 

Governor Kevin Stitt cheered the virtual charter school board’s decision, calling it a win “for religious liberty and education freedom,” adding he was encouraged by efforts that give parents more options for their children’s education.

“Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice,” he said in a statement.

Oklahoma joined several states this year in passing laws for voucher and other programs that allocate tax dollars for K-12 students attending private schools or who are educated at home, overriding objections that public school funding would be harmed.

Legislation Stitt signed into law May 26 offers annual, per-student tax credits of $5,000 to $7,500 depending on household income for private school costs, as well as $1,000 in tax credits per student for qualified homeschool expenses. The Parental Choice Tax Credit program is capped at $150 million in 2024, $200 million in 2025, and $250 million in 2026 and subsequent years. Homeschool tax credits are capped at $5 million annually.

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