05/10/23 – Charter schools have grown in popularity and availability over the past decade, but the debate over a religious charter school has caused some controversy within the movement.
Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City drafted a proposal to the state’s virtual charter school board to create a virtual Catholic charter school. The council sent the proposal back for review, which the archdiocese has until May 25 to complete. The idea for the school came from parents in rural areas looking for a Catholic education for their students. Many live too far from a physical school, and the archdiocese saw options were limited.
“What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that you have a lot of really urgent needs, especially in rural areas of our state and across the country, in terms of education options,” Brett said. Farley, executive director of the Oklahoma Catholic Conference. “And so we recognize that if we’re going to meet those needs, then leveraging technology is probably going to be the best way to do that.”
A recent Supreme Court decision could open the door to a religious charter school. The court confirmed Carson v. Makin, a Maine case involving state-funded tuition assistance for non-religious private schools. The program aimed to help families in sparsely populated areas provide an accessible education for their child. The court said that excluding faith-based private schools from this program was discrimination.
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Oklahoma’s proposed virtual Catholic charter — Saint Isidore of Seville — is said to have about 500 students according to Farley. The cost to taxpayers was not immediately available.
Charter school advocates, however, say it’s the message that concerns them most. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has stated that a Catholic charter school goes against some of the fundamental principles of a charter school, namely that it is a public school.
“All charter schools are public schools,” said Nina Rees, president of the group. “And in that sense, they can’t teach religion. They have to abide by the First Amendment or the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
Rees said that in addition to the legal issues, there was also the question of who the school would admit or hire.
“The biggest problem is that we are public in every sense of the word, and that means being open to anyone who wants to come to our schools, regardless of background, religion, sexual orientation,” he said. she stated.
The archdiocese pushed back saying it would not discriminate on admission but would follow Catholic doctrine.
“If we are allowed to start a charter school, we will still have to follow state regulations, which we fully intend to do,” Farley said. “We are not excluding students.”
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Charter school groups are skeptical.
“By creating a school that would potentially exclude some students, you know, you would open the door to a fundamentally different precedent than what we were supposed to do,” Rees said.
Rees’ group was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for National Charter School Week to recognize charter school teachers and founders. The event featured several speakers and highlighted the need for increased funding and support.
“Charter schools were the vehicle for social entrepreneurship,” said David Singer, founder of University Prep in Denver. “If the charters didn’t exist, there would be no path to founding a school alongside families and communities where I taught in high school.”
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Another educator at SLAM! Miami said more funding would allow a variety of students to benefit from a charter school education.
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“Additional funding can diversify instruction for students,” said Ciela Acosta, who teaches Grade 8. “Additional funding will be beneficial to engage parents in the community. It all starts at home.”
About 1.6 million students were enrolled in charter schools in 2009. This number increased to 3.4 million students in 2019. The number of charter schools also increased during this period, from 5 000 to 7500.