Lawsuit: Charter School Law 'Heralds a Financial Cataclysm' in Mississippi | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Lawsuit: Charter School Law 'Heralds a Financial Cataclysm' in Mississippi

Reimagine Prep is one of the charter schools operating in Jackson.

Reimagine Prep is one of the charter schools operating in Jackson. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— On July 11, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of some Jackson parents against Gov. Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Department of Education and Jackson Public Schools, challenging the funding provision of the Mississippi Charter Schools Act that allows ad valorem, or local tax funds, and per-pupil funds from the Mississippi Department of Education to fund charter schools. In this year's legislative session, Senate Bill 2161 amended the charter law to allow students who live in C-, D- and F-rated districts to attend charter schools located in districts where they don't live and send a district's ad valorem taxes across district lines.

The lawsuit, filed in the First Judicial District of the Chancery Court of Hinds County, says the Charter Schools Act "heralds a financial cataclysm for public school districts across the state" with the growth of the non-traditional schools.

"The future is clear: as a direct result of the unconstitutional CSA funding provisions, traditional public schools will have fewer teachers, books and educational resources," the lawsuit reads. "These schools will no longer be able to provide Mississippi schoolchildren the education that they are constitutionally entitled to receive."

Jody Owens, managing attorney for the SPLC's Mississippi office, said in a release that "a school operating outside the authority of the state board of education and the local school board cannot expect to receive public taxpayer money. The state constitution is clear on this matter."

Currently, Midtown Public Charter School and Reimagine Prep, both in Jackson, are the only charter schools operating in the state. Smilow Prep will join them in Jackson in the fall.

JPS says it has not yet received the lawsuit. "We follow the law as it relates to funding of charter schools," district officials said in response to a request for comment. "We value public education."

Though named as a defendant in the lawsuit, the district has been publicly critical of the presence of charter schools in their district. Neither of the charters in Jackson falls under the administrative power of JPS, which, as a low-performing district at the establishment of the charter school law, did not have the power to block them from forming there in the first place.

When JPS Chief Financial Officer Sharolyn Miller spoke at a public hearing on education to members of Mississippi's Legislative Black Caucus and House and Senate Democrats in April, she said the size of JPS in addition to continued underfunding had inhibited the success of the district. Charter schools did not help the issue; Miller says they billed JPS $565,000 at the beginning of the school year, and the district had to pay with its local contributions.

"We have a number of students who are specifically in home schools or private schools, but we've never had to support them in that way," she told the Jackson Free Press in April.

Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and The Hechinger Report. Follow her on Twitter @SierraMannie.

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