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SPLC suit: Mississippi education funding cuts violate state constitution

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s orders to slice nearly $20 million in funding from public schools are unconstitutional and must be rolled back, according to an SPLC lawsuit filed this week on behalf of two Mississippi legislators. 

Bryant ordered cuts across the state budget, including to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), in February and March without any oversight or input from the Legislature.

The Mississippi Constitution is clear: Only the Legislature can cut the state budget.

“The Mississippi Constitution forbids any branch of government from exercising another branch’s core powers,” said Will Bardwell, SPLC senior staff attorney. “Decisions about the state budget must be made by the Legislature alone. When Governor Bryant interfered with the Legislature’s MAEP appropriation, he not only shortchanged Mississippi schoolchildren – he violated the Constitution.”

The plaintiffs in the suit are state Rep. Bryant W. Clark of Pickens and Sen. John Horhn of Jackson.

“These budget cuts have had devastating effects for countless Mississippians, but none more than public schoolchildren,” Clark said. “Someone needs to stand up for our children.” 

The lawsuit asks the Hinds County Chancery Court to strike down the statute under which Bryant enacted the cuts, to fund schools at the level budgeted by the Legislature and to pay back the money that was unconstitutionally cut from MAEP.

The SPLC also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction that would prevent the budget cuts from taking further effect while the lawsuit proceeds.

“If schools don’t have enough money, they cannot provide an adequate education,” Horhn said. 

“It’s hard to imagine why the governor thinks schools need less money than the Legislature budgeted.”