Judge upholds Mississippi's charter school law

MGN Online

A judge upheld Mississippi's charter school law Tuesday, rejecting a constitutional challenge that sought to cut off state and local money to the schools.

Posted: Feb 14, 2018 8:33 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A judge upheld Mississippi's charter school law Tuesday, rejecting a constitutional challenge that sought to cut off state and local money to the schools.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas ruled that diversions of local property taxes to charter schools are acceptable, and that the schools don't need to be overseen by a local or state superintendent.

"This court cannot find that plaintiffs herein have proven unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt," Thomas wrote.

A group of plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Will Bardwell, plans to appeal the decision. Bardwell said he filed a notice of appeal Tuesday afternoon.

"Obviously we disagree, but this case was always going to be decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court, at the end of the day, and we are happy to have a chance to present our argument to them," Bardwell said.

Mississippi has three charter schools with almost 1,000 students. Two more schools, one in Jackson and one in Clarksdale, are scheduled to open next fall. Supporters say the alternate form of public schools, run by private nonprofits, provide innovative alternatives to struggling public schools.

"This was a frivolous attempt by the Democrats and their allies to usurp the lawmaking authority of the Legislature and prohibit parents from having options when it comes to their child's education," Gov. Phil Bryant wrote in a tweet.

Opponents, though, say charter schools drain needed money from school districts. The three Jackson schools have received more than $1.5 million in local money so far. The lawsuit didn't seek to outlaw charter schools directly, but asked Thomas to rule that both local and state funding streams were illegal.

An earlier decision by the state Supreme Court struck down a transfer of property-tax money from Pascagoula-Gautier to other school districts. The plaintiffs argued that the decision should extend to prohibiting the transfer of local property tax money to charter schools. Thomas rejected that argument, saying the earlier case was different because the students of the district losing the money saw no benefit.

"In the current action, the Legislature provided for local taxes to follow the local students," Thomas wrote. "If a taxpayer parent of a particular school district chooses to send their child to a public charter school, the local tax follows that child."

At the hearing, the state argued that local districts have long sent local tax money to other districts through student transfers.

Thomas also said that schools don't need to be supervised by state and local superintendents to qualify as a "free school" under the Mississippi Constitution. Instead, he adopted the state's argument that since charter schools are legally forbidden from charging money, they meet the definition.

"A free school is a school which does not charge tuition," Thomas wrote.

Bardwell cited that as a particular point of disagreement.

"The Mississippi Supreme Court has held for more than 100 years that the only schools entitled to be treated as free schools are those under a local superintendent and the state superintendent, and by design, charter schools are exempt from both," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 33591

Reported Deaths: 1204
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds264246
DeSoto176718
Madison135536
Jones115949
Neshoba101673
Harrison100312
Rankin99915
Lauderdale93781
Forrest92743
Scott78515
Jackson70417
Copiah62715
Washington62610
Leake59820
Lee57521
Holmes57041
Oktibbeha55728
Wayne55116
Warren54020
Yazoo5336
Grenada5227
Lowndes51513
Leflore50756
Lamar5007
Lincoln49234
Pike46617
Sunflower4368
Monroe43135
Lafayette4194
Covington3965
Panola3926
Bolivar37018
Attala36523
Simpson3603
Newton35210
Adams33218
Tate31912
Pontotoc3166
Marion30812
Chickasaw29119
Claiborne28910
Winston28210
Noxubee2738
Pearl River26932
Jasper2666
Marshall2643
Clay25111
Smith23412
Union23311
Coahoma2136
Clarke21125
Walthall2087
Lawrence1892
Yalobusha1838
Kemper17914
Carroll17111
Humphreys1569
Tallahatchie1564
Montgomery1432
Calhoun1425
Tippah14211
Itawamba1408
Hancock13413
Webster12811
Tunica1153
Jefferson1143
Jefferson Davis1144
Prentiss1113
Greene1089
Amite1043
George943
Wilkinson949
Tishomingo911
Quitman891
Alcorn762
Perry764
Choctaw754
Stone722
Franklin472
Benton420
Sharkey400
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 48588

Reported Deaths: 1042
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5687161
Mobile4315136
Montgomery4275109
Tuscaloosa238248
Marshall181511
Madison16208
Lee146337
Shelby141424
Morgan11575
Baldwin10399
Walker101825
Elmore97519
Dallas9189
Franklin90616
Etowah83413
DeKalb7905
Chambers64727
Autauga64312
Butler63728
Tallapoosa60669
Russell5890
Unassigned53826
Houston5366
Limestone5251
Lauderdale5146
Cullman4905
Lowndes47922
Pike4525
Colbert4426
St. Clair4402
Escambia4358
Calhoun4035
Coffee3923
Covington38110
Bullock36910
Barbour3622
Jackson3432
Talladega3337
Dale3261
Marengo32011
Hale31722
Wilcox2958
Clarke2876
Sumter28512
Winston2773
Chilton2762
Blount2581
Monroe2442
Pickens2446
Marion24114
Randolph2289
Conecuh2187
Macon2029
Choctaw19912
Bibb1981
Greene1888
Perry1791
Henry1403
Crenshaw1253
Washington1217
Lawrence1130
Cherokee1117
Geneva860
Lamar801
Fayette721
Clay692
Coosa601
Cleburne391
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