Appeal filed in school funding lawsuit

Published: May. 12, 2023 at 8:16 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -There’s a renewed court fight to keep public dollars out of private schools in Mississippi. It’s been a year since the legislature created a $10 million grant program designed to be used by private schools.

”This seems to be this latest effort on the part of the legislature just seem to be a flagrant violation of the Constitution, that we’re actually taking public funds and setting them aside to be used only for private schools,” said Parents for Public Schools Executive Director Joann Mickens.

The group Parents for Public Schools is back fighting to keep those dollars with public schools after winning the case in chancery court last year.

“The state has now appealed it to the Mississippi Supreme Court, who’s gonna have the final say on whether, you know, the constitutional language, which we think is quite clear, actually means what it says, which is, you can’t send public money to private schools,” noted Joshua Tom, Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi.

Part of the argument in the appeal filed by the Attorney General’s office is that it wasn’t state public education dollars but federal disaster-aid funding. They also claim that the legislature didn’t directly send funding to private schools. They instead set up the grant program to be administered by the Department of Finance and Administration.

“If you believe that, then the entire Constitution means nothing,” noted Will Bardwell, Democracy Forward attorney. “It means that the legislature could violate any provision of the state constitution just as long as it does so through a state agency, instead of doing it itself. It’s effectively arguing for constitutionalized money laundering.”

The brief filed by the AG’s office also argues that if there is an ARPA funding imbalance at play, it’s tilted toward public schools and says public schools will collect nearly thirty times as much as the private schools.

“I think that all of us who believe in the rule of law should be concerned because if our constitution says this is how things should be, then the way to change that is to change or amend the Constitution, not to pass laws that fly in the face of what the Constitution lays out,” added Mickens.

The plaintiffs’ filings are due early next month, and then we’ll wait for oral arguments before the Mississippi Supreme Court.

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