For decades the phrase “private religious charter school” seemed like an oxymoron. Charter schools are deemed public by state law, and must be secular just like any other public school.

Now, there’s a burgeoning effort to change that. An Oklahoma state board just approved an application by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to run what would be the country’s first religious charter school. The move is a direct challenge to existing charter laws, which critics say discriminate against churches and other religious entities.

The prospect of religious charter schools threatens to upend American education, far beyond Oklahoma. If religious charter schools become a reality, they could rejuvenate religious education, particularly Catholic schools, which have been losing students for many decades. Such schools could continue the successful conservative campaign to allow more public funding to go to religious education. They could lead to fewer students, and thus less funding, for public schools. Charters of all types could be deemed private schools for legal purposes, reducing anti-discrimination protections for students and teachers.

This is a startling possibility. Charter schools have long enjoyed bipartisan support because they were seen as a compromise to private school vouchers. Advocates promoted charters as innovative options within the public sector. Leading national charter organizations maintain this view and oppose religious charter schools. But it’s not clear they will be able to keep a hold on their own movement.

The recent push for private religious charter schools is a sign of the shifting times. The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority has knocked down legal barriers to public money going to religious education. The bipartisan consensus around charter schools has weakened. Conservative education advocates are trying to limit certain instruction on race and gender, including by funding alternatives to public schools.

As yet, it’s unclear if a religious charter school will ever open — they still have to clear a dense thicket of legal issues. The question could well reach the Supreme Court.

Read the full article about religious charter schools by Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat.