/Suit claims charter school law is unconstitutional

Suit claims charter school law is unconstitutional

Jackson parents are challenging Mississippi’s charter school law. They claim it is unconstitutional, and that it is harmful for students in the Jackson Public Schools District. On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against Gov. Phil Bryant is the head of the state’s education department. Bryant and the Republican leadership of the state have stated that charter schools offer better options for students in Mississippi, which is a state that consistently ranks among the bottom in education. Two sections of the Mississippi constitution state that a school district’s local funding, or ad valorem taxes, may not be used to support schools under its control. Another section states that the Legislature cannot appropriate money to schools that are not “free schools.” A “free school” is defined as a school that does not charge tuition, but must be controlled by the State Superintendent and the local superintendent. The lawsuit says that charter schools are not “free schools.” Mississippi’s charter schools operate by non-profit organizations, which appoint a school board. Two charter schools were opened in Jackson last year. Another one is expected to open later this year. Each charter school is run by its own board, with seven members of the Charter School Authorizer Board. This Board oversees the charter system approvals and grants charter schools. Two groups are trying to open four additional charter schools in Jackson, beginning in 2017. The state funds public charter schools in Mississippi on a per pupil basis. This is determined by the school’s average daily attendance or the number students who attend at least 63 percent of school days. Local dollars are also available from ad valorem taxes. A student enrolls at a charter school. Money that would have been paid to the public school district is transferred to the charter school. The courts will have to declare charter funding unconstitutional. This is similar to the decision by the Washington Supreme Court that its charter school law was unconstitutional due to its funding streams. This ruling led to the Washington Legislature adopting a bill this year that required charter school funding from state lottery proceeds and not general fund money. Bryant didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon. The state education department also declined comment on the pending litigation. Sherwin Johnson, spokesperson for JPS, stated Tuesday morning that the lawsuit had not been served on the district. “We follow the law in relation to charter school funding. Johnson stated that public education is important to him. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) was part of the legislation’s writing. Tollison, R-Oxford, said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but found it “disappointing”. Tollison was referring to a recent audit that revealed the district was not in compliance with the majority of state accreditation standards. Tollison stated that Jackson Public Schools is particularly at risk. He said that a court will make the final decision. It would likely be appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court would take the final decision. Tollison pointed out that often public money is given to private entities. Tollison stated that special education includes contracting with Mill Creek, Children’s Home Services and providing services to students with special needs. This is something that happens across the state. Jody Owens, the managing attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi branch, stated that a school district cannot succeed without sufficient resources. How can you expect a school system to succeed without the right number of teachers? Owens stated that JPS is still required to keep the same bricks and mortars as before, and maintain the same schools. “If we don’t get control over this, it could really harm public education in Mississippi.” Mississippi First Charter School Advocates stated in a statement that the timing for the lawsuit — just weeks before school begins — was harmful to current charter school students. The statement stated that the lawsuit by SPLC is based on the belief that public charter school students, real public school children from the most underserved areas in Jackson, do not deserve the public funds raised in their communities to support their education. It raises the question: “How can this lawsuit ensure that all children of Jackson have access and receive an excellent public education?” In 2013, the Legislature passed the charter school law. This was expanded to allow more students to be eligible for charter schools. The lottery system is used to select students who will attend charter schools within the state. At least 80 percent of low-income students must be selected. The Jackson Public School District has lost $1.85million in funding due to Jackson’s two charter schools, Midtown Public Charter School, and ReImage Prep. The complaint states that JPS could have spent $1.85million on 42 teacher salaries and 18 new school buses. It also required guidance counselors for 6,870 students. And vocational education programming for 6,672 more students. JPS is expected to lose $4 million in funding next year after the additions of grades to two charter schools and the opening Smilow Prep. Cassandra Overton–Welchlin is a plaintiff in the suit. She is the parent of three children. Two of them are currently enrolled at JPS. In her affidavit, she stated that her oldest child, who is dyslexic and had to be removed from McWillie Elementary School, was forced to do so because of a “lackof resources and expertise for Dyslexia services.” Owens stated that the lawsuit’s goal is to have the courts declare the current funding method for charter schools unconstitutional immediately and stop payments to them. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story