Parties Argue Constitutionality Of State-Funded Catholic Charter School, Okla. Supreme Court To Decide

Parties Argue Constitutionality Of State-Funded Catholic Charter School, Okla. Supreme Court To Decide

The Oklahoma Supreme Court will decide whether or not Oklahoma will become the first state to have a publicly funded religious charter school. The Attorney General, and counsel for both St. Isidore and the Virtual Charter School Board, all made their arguments in the State Supreme Court Tuesday, saying they expect a quick decision.

“I appear here today as the state's chief law officer to defend the separation of church and state,” said Attorney General Gentner Drummond.

Drummond sued the State Virtual Charter School Board, and each individual member in their official capacity, for entering into a contract with the Catholic school. Drummond calls St. Isidore unconstitutional.

“The state is not participating in the operation of St. Isidore. It's privately operated, privately owned, the state did not organize it,” said Philip Sechler, counsel for the State Virtual Charter School Board. 

Counsel for the State Virtual Charter School Board, Philip Sechler, made the argument that a number of religious institutions already get public funding, including a number of religious hospitals in the state.

He argues those institutions get public funds in order to provide public services or benefits, and in St. Isidore’s case, the school is offering the public benefit of education.

“It is a requirement under our constitution in Oklahoma to provide free public school.That's not a public benefit, that is a requirement of our statute,” said Drummond.

Sechler says while they are a Catholic school, St. Isidore is open to any student who wants to apply, providing another educational option in the state. 

“They shouldn't be discriminated against just because they're religious,” said Sechler.

Drummond argues, the moment that the virtual charter school board approved St. Isidore's contract, the school became a public entity, therefore crossing the line of church and state.

“One-hundred percent of all charter schools were once upon a time private and the moment they enter into a contract with the state of Oklahoma they become a charter school, a public entity,” said Drummond.

“There's no provision that says anything changes when you sign a contract other than, you have a contract,” said Sechler.

Supreme Court justices also asked a handful of questions to all three parties about the recently implemented private and homeschool tax credits. 

They questioned whether the tax credit program is also giving public tax dollars to private schools.

Drummond argued it is inherently different, because the tax credits give money to parents, who have the freedom to use that money as they see fit for their child’s education.

“That's materially different than the state funding 100 percent of a public school that is religious, parochial in nature,” said Drummond.

Justices also begged the question: is Oklahoma being used as a test case? Their decision is expected to set a precedent across the nation.

“My sense of it is, that it will be difficult for the court to not grant my request,” said Drummond.

St. Isidore is hoping to start collecting state funds on July 1st, and begin classes this fall. The school already has over 200 applicants, and is accepting additional applications until April 4th.