Charter School Decision Over Diversion of Public Funds Should Drop Soon | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Charter School Decision Over Diversion of Public Funds Should Drop Soon

The three charter schools in Jackson, including ReImagine Prep on McDowell Road, receive local tax dollars; several parents with children in public schools have challenged this use of public funds in chancery court.

The three charter schools in Jackson, including ReImagine Prep on McDowell Road, receive local tax dollars; several parents with children in public schools have challenged this use of public funds in chancery court. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— Parents with children in Jackson Public Schools are waiting for Hinds County Chancery Court Judge J. Dewayne Thomas to decide if the state's charter-school law violates the Mississippi Constitution, which may happen any day now. The Southern Poverty Law Center represents several parents with children in JPS in the lawsuit against Gov. Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Department of Education and JPS.

The case asks the court to decide if public-school districts sending their local and state funding to charter schools located in their district violates the state's constitutional mandates for school funding.

Three charter schools operate in the state, all in Jackson so far, and the Charter Authorizer Board authorized a fourth to open next year in Clarksdale.

In just two years, charter schools have cost Jackson Public Schools more than $4.75 million in lost funding, the SPLC brief filed in May says.

"If the (Charter Schools Act) remains in effect, the expansion of charter schools will continue to deplete public funds from traditional public school districts across the state, and will do so without any oversight from a local district superintendent, a local school board, the State Board of Education, or the State Superintendent," the brief says.

The state maintains that charter schools operate as free, public schools in the state and are similar to public schools. Charter schools must have open enrollment, be non-sectarian and nonprofit, the State's brief, filed in May, says. The Mississippi Board of Education also assesses charter schools for standards, assessments, graduation and accountability grades, just like public schools.

The plaintiff parents in the case argue that, as in the Pascagoula School District v. Tucker case, school districts should not be forced to share their ad valorem tax dollars, property tax dollars specifically allocated to public schools, with charters.

The State argues that this misinterprets the Tucker case entirely, because charter schools benefit local students.

"Unlike the legislative mandate in Pascagoula School District v. Tucker that unilaterally divested the taxed district of its funds, taxpayer parents choose to send their school-aged children to a public charter school. And when they do so, the money simply follows the local student," the state's May brief says.

The SPLC argues that charter schools are not inside the district's control. If Judge Thomas finds this to be true, the Charter Schools Act of 2013 would violate Section 206 of the Mississippi Constitution.

The State acknowledges that the "traditional public school district" receives less money when there are charter schools in their district but argue that "the school also is relieved of the responsibility to educate the child."

"There is thus an equal transfer from one public school system to another public school system," the State's response filed June 21 says. "With this, every child who stays in a traditional public school has the same amount of per-pupil funding available to him or her as before the MCSA was enacted."

All parties in the case filed the necessary paperwork this summer and await Judge Thomas' decision. Whichever party loses has the right to appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which could mean another year of litigation in the case.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the fourth charter school in the state is in Cleveland. It's in Clarksdale, not Cleveland. We apologize for the error. Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com Read more stories at jfp.ms/charter and jfp.ms/jps.

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