Mississippi funded its charter schools through an unconstitutional scheme that diverted public tax dollars from traditional public schools. The SPLC filed a lawsuit in state court to end the funding system.
The lawsuit called for the court to strike down the funding provisions of the Mississippi Charter School Act (CSA). The Mississippi Constitution required schools to be under the supervision of the state and local boards of education to receive public funding. But under the CSA, charter schools received public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, and local boards of education.
Charter schools in Mississippi were accountable to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, a body that received 3 percent of the public funding that goes to charter schools.
Two charter schools were operating in Mississippi at the time of the filing, both within the boundaries of the Jackson Public School District (JPS). In one school year, more than $1.85 million was diverted from the district to fund them. That amount could have paid the salaries of 42 public school teachers, according to the complaint. Given that a third charter school was set to open within JPS’s boundaries, the district stood to lose more than $4 million in the 2016-17 school year, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit warned that the opening of more charter schools would compound the financial harm. There were applications pending for four more charter schools when the lawsuit was filed in July 2016. Each charter school would be located within the Jackson Public School District, drawing more funding from the district.
By June 2019, the case was before the Mississippi Supreme Court. During oral arguments, the SPLC noted that the question before the court was not whether the Legislature had the authority to allow charter schools, but whether the funding mechanism chosen by the Legislature violated the Mississippi Constitution. Under sharp questioning by the justices, the SPLC outlined how the funding scheme required school districts to give away property tax revenue to schools over which they had no control.
Mississippi Supreme Court oral arguments