On July 11, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a lawsuit alleging that the school funding provisions of the state charter school law passed by the Mississippi Legislature are unconstitutional.
The complaint, in Araujo v Bryant, points out that the Mississippi Constitution requires schools to be under the supervision of the State and local boards of education in order to receive public funding. However, under the Charter School Act (CSA), charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the State Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, and local boards of education.
The lawsuit calls for the Court to strike down the funding provisions of the CSA.
“A school operating outside the authority of the state board of education and the local school board cannot expect to receive public taxpayer money,” said Jody Owens, managing attorney for SPLC’s Mississippi office. “The state constitution is clear on this matter.”
Charter schools in Mississippi are accountable to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, a body appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor, which receives three?percent of the public tax dollars going to the charters it authorizes.
The complaint explains that two charter schools are currently operating in Mississippi, both within the boundaries of the Jackson Public School District (JPS). In one school year, more than $1.85 million was diverted from the local district to fund these schools. That amount could have paid the salaries of 42 public school teachers, according to the complaint. Given that a third charter school is set to open within JPS’s geographic boundaries, the complaint notes that the local schools stand to lose more than $4 million in the 2016-17 school year.
The lawsuit warns that the opening of more charter schools will compound the financial harm. There are currently applications pending for four more charter schools. Each charter school would be located within the Jackson Public School District, drawing more funding away from the schools that are under the local school board.
“I sent my children to a public school because I believe in our public schools,” said Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, a plaintiff in the case and the mother of two children enrolled in the Jackson Public School District. “I’m outraged that state and local tax dollars are funding charter schools in a way that threatens the existence of important services, including services for those with special needs, at my children’s school. As a taxpayer, I expect my property tax dollars will be used to support local public schools, which educate the vast majority of students in Jackson.”
The lawsuit was filed in the First Judicial District of the Chancery Court of Hinds County, which includes Jackson, the state capital.
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
973-624-1815, x 19
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications