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.

Cases: 516486

Reported Deaths: 10299
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison35042558
DeSoto33463432
Hinds32797643
Jackson24926392
Rankin22593405
Lee16523245
Madison14978283
Jones14191248
Forrest13852260
Lauderdale12326323
Lowndes11387193
Lamar10713140
Pearl River9759244
Lafayette8881143
Hancock7848132
Washington7561169
Oktibbeha7234138
Monroe7091179
Pontotoc7060110
Warren6892178
Panola6807135
Neshoba6753210
Marshall6735142
Bolivar6472151
Union645699
Alcorn5950108
Pike5947157
Lincoln5544136
George511080
Prentiss510185
Tippah497983
Itawamba4903107
Scott479499
Tate4786118
Adams4784125
Leflore4756144
Yazoo458492
Copiah458395
Simpson4577117
Wayne443772
Covington435395
Sunflower4331106
Marion4311112
Coahoma4259110
Leake414491
Newton396182
Tishomingo388894
Grenada3796109
Stone366466
Attala341690
Jasper341566
Chickasaw319167
Winston318892
Clay313978
Clarke301995
Calhoun288950
Holmes273389
Smith270852
Yalobusha245847
Tallahatchie232653
Greene225449
Walthall222166
Lawrence220842
Perry214656
Amite210357
Webster206748
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182757
Carroll175841
Jefferson Davis174643
Tunica163939
Benton153439
Kemper145541
Choctaw137827
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132339
Franklin126630
Quitman107928
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97334
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 848779

Reported Deaths: 16185
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1164582005
Mobile744601384
Madison53563738
Shelby38454371
Baldwin38215589
Tuscaloosa36172644
Montgomery34573782
Lee25690264
Calhoun22636520
Morgan22548411
Etowah20075520
Marshall18865318
Houston17795426
St. Clair16968359
Limestone16206220
Cullman16170306
Elmore15952295
Lauderdale15093307
Talladega14267302
DeKalb13095271
Walker12180380
Blount10791193
Autauga10562157
Jackson10221196
Coffee9440192
Colbert9376210
Dale9049192
Tallapoosa7287202
Russell711465
Chilton7098170
Covington6973197
Escambia6969144
Franklin6369108
Chambers5810142
Marion5446132
Dallas5306210
Pike5135109
Clarke486086
Lawrence4852130
Winston4804110
Geneva4656136
Bibb436495
Barbour370880
Butler3445101
Marengo342993
Monroe338566
Randolph338067
Pickens335090
Fayette332285
Henry321266
Cherokee320564
Hale319589
Crenshaw261878
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay253169
Macon246367
Conecuh193562
Coosa186048
Wilcox178538
Lowndes178468
Bullock152845
Perry141940
Sumter139841
Greene130745
Choctaw94628
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