Oklahoma Supreme Court Hears Case on Whether State Can Fund Religious Charter School

Debra Daniel

On April 2, 2024, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case filed by Oklahoma’s Attorney General challenging whether the state can directly fund a religious charter school. Regardless of how the Oklahoma Supreme Court rules, this case is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court and could have far-reaching consequences if states are allowed to, or required to, fund religious charter schools in the same manner as non-religious charter schools. More information about this case appears below.

Drummond v. Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, et al.

Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma

On April 2, 2024, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Drummond v. Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, a case filed by the Oklahoma’s Attorney General challenging whether the state can directly fund a religious charter school.

In 2023, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to approve St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School,[1] which is to be operated by the Roman Catholic Archidiocese of Oklahoma City and the Doicese of Tulsa.  St. Isidore plans to conduct classes in the same manner as private Catholic schools by including religious teachings as part of every subject from math to science to history.

The Oklahoma Attorney General warned the board prior to approving St. Isidore that doing so would be unconstitutional under Oklahoma law, which clearly states that charter schools cannot be sectarian nor affiliated with a religious institution. Moreover, Oklahoma’s constitution prohibits spending public money for any religious purpose. Once the school was approved, the Attorney General filed suit alleging, among other things, that the school board members had violated their oaths of office.

Proponents of the school believe that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings hold that religious institutions cannot be excluded from public funding programs available to non-religious institutions. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion prohibits states from discriminating against religious schools simply because they are religious.

Supporters of the school argue that, if the school prevails, it would open up opportunities for school choice throughout the country. Challengers are concerned that such an outcome will lead to the need to spend significant amounts of taxpayer money on religious education.

[1] Interestingly, apparently all three members of the board who voted in favor of St. Isidore are no longer on the board.

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