Home News Nation’s First Religious Charter School Could Be Coming to Oklahoma

Nation’s First Religious Charter School Could Be Coming to Oklahoma

by Staff

Lori Allen Walke, the senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, a Protestant community in Oklahoma City, described the idea of religious charter schools as a violation of religious freedom, which “protects our right to practice the religion of our choice and to not practice a religion of anyone else’s choice.”

Ms. Walke, who works with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a legal advocacy group, was alarmed by the St. Isidore’s application, which describes Catholic schools as participating in “the evangelizing mission of the Church.”

“They’re being very transparent about what they’re trying to do there,” she said.

Charter schools represent a hybrid — and growing — model of education. Like regular public schools, they are funded with taxpayer money and do not charge tuition. But unlike traditional schools, they are not zoned to particular neighborhoods, are independently managed and are often designed for innovation and flexibility. For example, they may have longer school days, or center on an academic theme.

The number of students enrolled in charter schools in the United States more than doubled between 2009 and 2019, according to federal data. Oklahoma has about 60 charter schools, including several virtual schools.

The national expansion of charter schools has at times been highly contentious, as schools pulled students — and their funding — away from neighborhood public schools. At the same time, charter schools have often been popular among Black and Latino parents seeking an alternative to failing public schools, and have been embraced by some Democrats as an alternative to taxpayer-funded vouchers supported by Republicans.

Nicole Stelle Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who has argued for religious charter schools and has advised the St. Isidore organizers, said that the “underlying question” was whether charter schools were “state actors” or “private actors,” despite being publicly funded.

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