/Charter school lawsuit draws support from 3 education groups

Charter school lawsuit draws support from 3 education groups

Mississippi News – Nonprofit Mississippi News A Mississippi school board and two education groups are supporting a legal battle to challenge the funding of charter schools. The Clarksdale Municipal Schools District, Mississippi Association of Educators and Education Law Center filed amicus Briefs on Aug. 15 in support of the Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit that alleges charter schools take much-needed funds from the Jackson Public school District. In 2016, the SPLC filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jackson parents, who claimed that the state’s charter school law was unconstitutional. The lawsuit cites the Mississippi constitution which states that school districts’ ad valorem taxes, or local funding, may only be used to maintain schools. It also says that the Legislature cannot appropriate money to schools that are not “free schools.” Charter schools are public schools that offer tuition free of charge and operate independently from a school district. They report to the Charter School Authorizer Board which decides which schools are allowed to open in the state. As middle schools in Jackson, ReImagine Prep and Midtown Public Charter School are currently operating. Joel E. Smilow Collegiate was established as an elementary school in the first school year. Clarksdale Collegiate Prep opened its doors this month. Dewayne Thomas, Hinds County Judge, struck a blow to this case in February. He found insufficient evidence that charter schools were funded in a manner that is contrary to state laws. The case is currently being appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The SPLC stated in their supreme court brief that “This case does not concern whether charter schools are good and bad.” The case is not about whether or not the Legislature has the authority in Mississippi to allow charter schools. Instead, the SPLC argues that the case concerns whether the Legislature can make a district give charter schools the tax money it has imposed. The amicus brief of the Mississippi Association of Educators details the problems charter schools have had historically and nationally and points out that those currently operating in Mississippi have shown “mediocre performance.” The brief states that funds diverted to charter schools cannot be used to fund solutions that have a track history of helping struggling students. “Mississippi cannot afford to waste these scarce public resources,” Clarksdale Municipal Schools District superintendent Dennis Dupree has been vocal against charter schools, especially since the authorization board approved Clarksdale Collegiate’s opening. In its brief, the district refers to other types of public schools in the State such as the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science and the Mississippi School of the Arts. These schools are not tax-funded but they are public schools. The Education Law Center, a non-profit advocacy group for education, is located in Newark. They state that the district’s underfunded school serves many low-income students. Census data shows that 35 percent of JPS children aged 5-17 lived in poverty in 2016. Additional resources are needed to serve these students. Mississippi Supreme Court is yet to rule on the case.