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Charter Schools Face Uncertain Political Support as Religious Charters Loom

BOULDER, CO (June 11, 2024)—Sometime in the next month or so, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma is expected to issue its decision about whether the state can authorize a charter school that plans to proselytize and teach a religious curriculum and has even reserved the right to engage in faith-based discrimination.

As explained in a recent Education Week commentary by NEPC Director Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, this and other recent developments have led to a shift in the political landscape. In particular, support from Democratic lawmakers is now precarious or simply withdrawn, given unmet demands for increased accountability and transparency in response to concerns over fraud as well as inequities in charter school enrollments.

Charter schools have already moved far from their original goals of community engagement, innovation, and support for at-risk students. The possible legal shift, to allow—or even require—the granting of charters for religious schools, would likely be the final nail in the bipartisan coffin.

This shift has been shaped by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including the 2022 Carson v. Makin ruling, which found that states funding private education could not discriminate against religious schools. Following this, Oklahoma approved a charter for a Roman Catholic cyber-school in 2023.

The constitutionality of such religious charter schools is under scrutiny, with ongoing legal challenges exploring whether public funding for these institutions violates state constitutions and/or whether placing limits on these charters infringes on religious freedoms. The pending decision in Oklahoma is in the forefront, but additional decisions will follow.

If the new religious charter school is allowed, the idea of “public charter schools” will have fallen by the wayside. As Welner’s commentary concludes, the “sense of regret that charters never lived up to their potential should not translate into a nostalgic defense of what charters have truly become. Discrimination and proselytizing on the taxpayer dime will never be acceptable.”

Find What Would Religious Charter Schools Mean for Public Education?, by Kevin Welner, on the Education Week website or the NEPC website.


The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: