We saw this coming. The charter movement, widely praised in the press, opened the door to school choice and consumerism. Now, as we see in Oklahoma, the state may soon have its first Catholic school charter. When the charter movement started, it promised that charter schools would be innovative, accountable, cost less than public schools and be transparent. As we have repeatedly seen, charter schools are not innovative, avoid accountability, demand the same or greater funding than public schools, and are not transparent.

Oklahoma shows where the charter movement is heading: charter schools are becoming a pathway to vouchers.

A Catholic charter school funded by taxpayer dollars is likely coming to Oklahoma soon, based on a recent ruling of the state’s outing attorney general, with support from the re-elected governor and off newly elected state superintendent of public education.

For decades, Baptists have fought against public funding of parochial schools of all kinds, but a recent series of rulings by the United States Supreme Court appears to have opened the door to that very reality. And Oklahoma’s strongly Republican leaders appear ready to walk through that door.

John O’Connor

On Dec. 1, Attorney General John O’Connor — who is Catholic — and Solicitor General Zach West wrote a non-binding legal opinion that says a current state law blocking religious institutions and private sectarian schools from state funding of public charter school programs is unconstitutional and should not be enforced.

Already, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City “states it is willing to adhere to every jot and tittle of state law and intends to apply for a charter,” reported Andrew Spiropoulos, the Robert S. Kerr Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

That means for the first time, government funding for public schools could also flow to Catholic schools and other faith-based schools.

And that’s not good news to Charles Foster Johnson, who helped found the group Pastors for Oklahoma Kids.

“It’s perfectly fine for those Oklahoma charter schools to become religious schools if they no longer receive public tax dollars from the people of Oklahoma,” he said. “But the last thing the devout religious folks of Oklahoma need is for their state to entangle itself in the establishment of religion through the funding of religious schools masquerading as public charter schools. All true religion, whether in congregation or class room, is voluntary and free. It must remain unencumbered by state intrusion.”

Charles Foster Johnson

Pastors for Texas Kids has noted that Oklahoma ranks 48th in the nation for per-student spending on public education. The state’s public schools serve 703,650 students, accounting for 93% of the school-age population.