The State of Oklahoma takes the responsibility of educating all children seriously, as well as providing adequate funding for that purpose. Sounds straightforward, but is it?

The Oklahoma State Constitution reads, “Provisions shall be made for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools, which shall be open to all the children of the state and free from sectarian control.” Furthermore, “The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.”

Finally, “The Legislature shall, by appropriate legislation, raise and appropriate funds for the annual support of the common schools of the State to the extent of forty-two ($42.00) dollars per capita based on total state-wide enrollment for the preceding school year. Such moneys shall be allocated to the various school districts in the manner and by a distributing agency to be designated by the Legislature; provided that nothing herein shall be construed as limiting any particular school district to the per capita amount specified herein, but the amount of state funds to which any school district may be entitled shall be determined by the distributing agency upon terms and conditions specified by the Legislature, and provided further that such funds shall be in addition to apportionments from the permanent school fund.”

In addition, public education should be free from sectarian control. Cambridge Dictionary defines sectarian as a state “caused by or feeling very strong support for the religious or political group that you are a member of, in a way that can cause problems with other groups.”

In other words, the Oklahoma Constitution respected the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, creating a healthy barrier between church and state.

Respecting the barrier between church and state is wise because Oklahoma has a problematic history of mixing sectarian causes with children’s education. Do you remember boarding schools like Chilocco Agricultural School, where my great-grandmother and her sister suffered as children?

Indigenous children were whisked away and forced to assimilate into Eurocentric ways. Their sacred hair was cut and styled to fit a more “Christian” standard.  Their clothes were thrown away and replaced with military uniforms.  They were forbidden to speak their native languages and beaten when they did.  They were forced to attend Christian worship in order to “evangelize the savages.”

All these atrocities were funded by taxpayer dollars.  There was no accountability.  There was no oversight. Schools were allowed to “educate” children as their conscience dictated, all funded by taxpayers.  It is no wonder the state of Oklahoma saw the dangers of mixing public education with sectarian causes. That surely was one of the reasons for including that clause in their Constitution.

That was the case for decades–until now.

The Oklahoma Governor, House Speaker, State Superintendent, and most state legislators are ignoring the “no sectarian” clause in the state constitution in hopes of passing their “school choice” bill.

They want to give families tax credits (vouchers) to help them afford private education.  One of the many problems that persists is that most private education routes are sectarian, run by churches or home school networks.

Proponents argue that “tax credits” do not directly fund sectarian education but provide tax incentives for families to choose and subsidize private sectarian education. This argument is mere hogwash.

The simple question remains, “Are tax dollars meant for public education reduced due to the tax credits and diverted to qualifying families based upon their usage for private (often sectarian) education?”

I can answer that question. In most cases, the answer is “yes.”

Private education, secular or sectarian, has no governmental oversight. They are accountable to no one besides their own governing structures. They do not have to educate all children, often excluding “troublemakers” or “low-performing” students. As private businesses, they are allowed to place profits over the common good.

Public education does not have those luxuries.  They have governmental oversight and accountability. They educate ALL students regardless.  They concentrate on educating children rather than the bottom line.  Public education is one of America’s sacred institutions, supplying the country with the next generation of leaders, innovators, and workers.

When legislators blatantly ignore federal and state constitutions, we are left to ask why. In Oklahoma, we only have to look back to the boarding school to see clearly.  School choice is more about a new era of segregation and assimilation.

Some white conservative Christians want their children to be around other white conservative Christian children.  They are not concerned about education as much as they are about indoctrinating their children with the traditions and culture of the past.

And they want government funds for public education diverted to help pay for it, in violation of the Oklahoma State Constitution.

When elected officials and politicians ignore the constitutional mandate to keep church and state separate – especially when funding public education – people of good faith must stand up, speak out, and step forward for public education.

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