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Proponents are expected to resubmit the application for a publicly-funded Catholic online charter school later this month after revisions are made to address weaknesses laid out by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

The board in April rejected the proposed St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in what is being watched as a national test case for public funding of religious education.

Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, said the revisions will include tackling the question of whether the school can be legally justified, which he called the “800-pound gorilla.”

School organizers are looking to the state Legislature to help provide evidence they can use in making their legal case. One bill they wanted was already signed by the governor: Senate Bill 404, which addresses state funding and “religious discrimination.”

The archdiocese had a hand in writing the bill, authored by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville. It would insert into state statute the sentence: “It shall be deemed a substantial burden to exclude any person or entity from participation in or receipt of governmental funds, benefits, programs, or exemptions based solely on the religious character or affiliation of the person or entity.”

Another bill school supporters are watching is Senate Bill 516, which would eliminate the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and replace it with a new, larger board that could oversee and authorize brick-and-mortar charter schools as well as virtual ones.

Farley said he’d like to see lawmakers use the bill to eliminate the state’s requirement that public schools be nonsectarian, meaning they are not affiliated with a particular religious group.

The bill was sent to the conference committee after an amended version was approved by the House last month.

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board met Tuesday. They did not discuss the school application publicly but did move into an executive session to talk with legal counsel about the “threatened, anticipated, or potential legal challenges” related to their decision.

Board members are concerned they will be sued following the decision. Their legal counsel, Deputy Attorney General Niki Batt, last month told the board approving the school would directly violate state law and, therefore, likely mean they would not be protected by qualified immunity.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for June 13. Comments, questions, story tips? Please reach out via email or direct message.

— Jennifer Palmer

What I’m Reading

  • House Bill 1397 directs the state Education Department to write curriculum covering the civil rights movement. Listen to Rep. Monroe Nichols, who says the Oklahoma Black Legislative Caucus wasn’t consulted on the bill. [Tulsa World]
  • Conservatives took control of a school board in a small, Colorado mountain town. Lifelong Republicans and conservative Christians are furious at what the board has done. [NBC News]
  • Superintendent Ryan Walters and the Education Department have not discussed the school report cards, released quietly last month. But they have indicated an overhaul is coming. [The Oklahoman]

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