Conservative Legal Group Enters the Charter School Lawsuit Fray | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Conservative Legal Group Enters the Charter School Lawsuit Fray

Mike Hurst, director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit challenging the state's charter-school law on behalf of parents whose children attend charter schools in Jackson.

Mike Hurst, director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit challenging the state's charter-school law on behalf of parents whose children attend charter schools in Jackson. Photo by Arielle Dreher.

— A conservative legal group is intervening in the Southern Poverty Law Center's lawsuit challenging the state's charter-school law.

On Aug. 10, Mike Hurst, director of The Mississippi Justice Institute filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of parents of students who attend two of the three charter schools now open in Jackson. The institute is the legal arm of the conservative Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

Hurst told media outside the Mississippi Department of Education building that the SPLC lawsuit ultimately seeks to shut down charter schools.

"Free public charter schools are changing the lives of these students in Jackson," Hurst said. "Today these parents and kids are simply asking for a chance to have their voices heard in the courtroom because this lawsuit directly impacts their lives in the future."

Four parents are asking to intervene in the lawsuit as defendants because, Hurst said, his clients have an obvious interest in the lawsuit.

"No one else in this lawsuit is representing their interests. Let me be clear; despite what the Southern Poverty Law Center says, their lawsuit is about shutting down charter schools, shutting down parents' choice for the best education opportunities for their children and shutting down how our elected officials choose to use taxpayer dollars to best maximize free, public educational systems," Hurst said Wednesday.

SPLC's lawsuit specifically targeted the funding provisions of the Mississippi Charter Schools Act of 2013, alleging that use of ad valorem (property taxes) funding from local school districts and per-pupil funding from the Mississippi Department of Education to fund charter schools violates Mississippi's constitution.

"Requiring a school district to distribute ad valorem tax revenue to a school outside its control is unconstitutional," the SPLC complaint, filed on behalf of several parents with students in Jackson Public Schools a month ago, says.

Gladys Overton, one of the parents named in Hurst's motion, told reporters Wednesday that sending her daughter to ReImagine Prep in south Jackson was "life changing." Overton, who has two children in JPS schools, sent her third child, her daughter to ReImagine Prep because she was bullied in public schools and had to take medication to stem her anxiety. Being at ReImagine Prep, she doesn't have to worry about bullies anymore Overton said.

"Now she can go to school and not worry about bullies or unclear expectations," Overton said Wednesday. "After only one month of being at ReImagine Prep, we were able to completely wean her off of medications. Since being at ReImagine Prep, she's thrived."

Currently, the state's charter schools only operate in Jackson. SPLC's original lawsuit states that in the 2015-2016 school year, ReImagine Prep and Midtown Public Charter School cost JPS $1.85 million in ad valorem and state per-pupil funds. Charter schools are also allowed to accept funding from donors.

Smilow Prep, which opened this month with a fifth-grade class of 127 fifth graders, is named after corporate donor Joel E. Smilow, the former CEO of Playtex Products who donated $1 million to fund Smilow Prep and Smilow Collegiate, another charter school set to open next school year. The school will grow to serve grades 5 through 8 at its capacity.

For more education coverage, visit jacksonfreepress.com/education.

See more stories at jfp.ms/charter.

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