Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas said the issue of local tax dollars following students to charter schools is the crux of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends that the way charter schools are funded in the state is unconstitutional.
It points to two sections in the Mississippi constitution that say a school district’s ad valorem taxes – or local funding – may only be used for the district to maintain schools it oversees. It also cites another section that says the Legislature must not appropriate any money to a school that is not a “free school.”
“A ‘free school’ is not merely a school that charges no tuition; it must also be regulated by the State Superintendent of Education and the local school district superintendent. Charter schools … are not ‘free schools,’” the lawsuit states.
Mississippi’s charter schools are operated by nonprofit organizations that appoint a board for the school. Three charter schools are currently in operation in Jackson, and a fourth is set to open in Clarksdale in the fall of 2018. Each charter school operates under its own board and the state’s seven-member Charter School Authorizer Board, which oversees the charter system and approves applications.
If the judge rules in favor of the parents and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Legislature will be tasked with devising another method of funding charter schools. The appeals process, however, would likely delay a solution even further, putting charter schools in a deeper state of limbo.
Bardwell and other plaintiffs attorneys called a status conference before the judge last week, and he said from that experience “we are optimistic that the Legislature will get a chance to face the issue in 2019.”
SPLC Attorney’s Try For Summary Judgement in Charter Schools Lawsuit While Fighting Off Parents Attempting to Intervene.