/Mississippi charter schools’ use of local tax dollars at the heart of case before the state Supreme Court

Mississippi charter schools’ use of local tax dollars at the heart of case before the state Supreme Court

Non-profit Mississippi News Does it violate the Constitution for local school districts in Mississippi to send tax dollars to charter schools with their tax dollars? This was Tuesday’s question for the Mississippi Supreme Court justices. Oral arguments were given by attorneys from the Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center as well as the state Attorney General’s Office to discuss the constitutionality of how charter schools are funded. This hearing was the latest in a long-running legal battle. The lawsuit was filed by the SPLC on behalf of Jackson parents. They claimed that the state’s charter school law (especially the issue of local tax dollars being sent to them) is unconstitutional, and detrimental to the students of the Jackson Public Schools District. Charles Araujo and Evelyn Araujo are plaintiffs in the case. Two of the couple’s children graduated from Jackson Public School District and one attends Murrah High School. The couple told reporters that they didn’t participate in the lawsuit because of their opposition to charter schools. They also explained to reporters that they understand that some parents may choose to send their children to charter schools because it is the best choice. Their problem is how schools are funded. Evelyn Araujo stated that when we lose money, we lose the things we want but can’t get. “It’s a great harm to my child that he doesn’t have that kind of thing.” Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas ruled that there was not enough evidence to show charter schools were funded in a manner that is contrary to state law. The Supreme Court was notified by SPLC lawyers. Tuesday’s argument was centered on a specific clause in the Mississippi Constitution that states that local funding (also known as ad valorem tax) shall be used by a district to “maintain it schools”. Although charter schools can be classified by the state either as local education agencies or individual districts, funding is sent to them by their local school district based upon enrollment. This was the issue between the parties. If a charter school technically is an individual district, then is it required that a school district share its local tax dollars. Local funding comes from ad valorem taxes. A student enrolls at a charter school and the money that would have been paid to the district goes to the charter school. Since their opening, the Jackson Public School District has given $8.7 million to charter school. In Clarksdale and Jackson, five charter schools were operating that served a variety of grades K-8 in the 2018-19 school years. Two K-8 charter schools are opening in Jackson this fall for the 2019-20 school years. In the 2020-21 school years, Jackson will be home to the state’s first charter high-school. Christine Bischoff, a SPLC attorney, stated that charter schools are not part the district’s schools and that the Constitution allows for the collection of this tax but it cannot be used to fund district schools. Bischoff often referred to a previous Supreme Court case, Pascagoula Schools District v. Tucker. The district challenged a new law that required revenue it collected from taxes on crude oil refineries and liquefied natural gases terminals in its district to be distributed among the three other counties. The law was declared unconstitutional by the court. Bischoff stated that parents have one simple question for him. “…can a school district be forced to share its maintenance tax with other school districts by the Legislature? As you will recall, Tucker was ruled against by this court. Krissy Nobile works for the state Attorney General’s Office. She argued that local school tax levies (property taxes collected by a district), apply to local students, and not necessarily school districts. The question is: What are the schools in the district? Is the school board responsible for managing the schools? Are they the schools used by students from the taxed districts? Nobile stated that she believes it is the latter and that Tucker’s court affirmed this conclusion. In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature passed a law to establish charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that are free and adhere to the same academic and accountability standards. However, the law gives teachers and administrators more freedom when it comes to student instruction. Charter schools are not under the control of a school board or operating under the authority of a local school district, as is traditional public schools. The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board oversees charter schools, while traditional public schools are under the control of the state Board of Education. A handful of charter schools in Mississippi are currently completing the application process with their charter school authorizer board. The justices did not rule, but members stated that they would make a decision “in the due course”._x000D