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: 113876

Reported Deaths: 3238
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7894177
DeSoto693279
Harrison512983
Jackson450384
Rankin389486
Madison381293
Lee351479
Forrest300778
Jones289184
Washington256499
Lafayette248343
Lauderdale2437134
Lamar224238
Oktibbeha200854
Bolivar200477
Neshoba1842111
Lowndes178362
Panola169139
Leflore165887
Sunflower160949
Warren154355
Monroe148172
Pontotoc146119
Marshall141229
Lincoln138957
Pike138256
Copiah136936
Coahoma124936
Scott124929
Yazoo121733
Grenada121638
Simpson121249
Union117425
Tate116039
Leake114640
Holmes114460
Pearl River112959
Itawamba112225
Adams107343
Prentiss104819
Wayne100821
Alcorn98712
George97918
Covington97026
Marion94642
Tippah88922
Newton85627
Chickasaw84026
Tallahatchie84025
Winston83321
Hancock81628
Tishomingo80041
Attala79026
Clarke74351
Clay68421
Jasper67917
Walthall63827
Calhoun62212
Noxubee59617
Smith59116
Montgomery54323
Claiborne53716
Tunica52917
Yalobusha52614
Lawrence51214
Perry48723
Carroll48012
Greene47318
Stone46414
Humphreys42816
Amite42113
Quitman4196
Jefferson Davis40511
Webster37013
Wilkinson33720
Benton3335
Kemper32215
Sharkey28314
Jefferson27510
Franklin2403
Choctaw2056
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22988375
Mobile16788315
Tuscaloosa10235140
Montgomery9978197
Madison922894
Shelby727463
Baldwin661569
Lee651765
Marshall437249
Calhoun422461
Etowah421450
Morgan407135
Houston371734
DeKalb336029
Elmore317353
St. Clair289142
Limestone279730
Walker275593
Talladega263635
Cullman239925
Lauderdale218042
Jackson212515
Franklin203231
Autauga203030
Colbert198731
Russell19283
Blount191125
Dallas186327
Chilton185832
Coffee173211
Escambia172230
Covington171429
Dale166551
Chambers134343
Clarke133617
Pike132713
Tallapoosa131387
Marion107129
Barbour10129
Butler100240
Marengo100222
Winston91913
Geneva8617
Lawrence83732
Pickens83618
Bibb82514
Randolph82016
Hale75830
Clay73612
Washington73412
Cherokee73114
Lowndes70428
Monroe64510
Henry6436
Bullock63917
Crenshaw60330
Perry5856
Fayette56913
Wilcox56412
Conecuh56013
Cleburne5518
Macon53020
Lamar4745
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
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