While changes to school choice did not make their way through the legislature this year, advocates for the cause were able to celebrate a court victory earlier today.
In a case aimed at determining the constitutionality of charter schools in Mississippi, a Hinds County Judge ruled in favor of the charter schools. The Mississippi Justice Institute represented three families in the case, and director, Shadrick White, says that this decision allows the three charter schools in Mississippi to remain open, and gives parents the chance to choose where they send their children. Had the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, White said it could have caused a slippery slope in terms of what type of schools can function in the state.
“My clients pay taxes, so they should have the right to take that money to a public charter school if that is a better option for their children. These schools are making their lives better. The plaintiffs in this case, however, had an extreme argument: that the funding for charter schools, agricultural schools, some alternative schools, and other types of non-traditional public schools should be barred,” White said.
The plaintiffs, the Southern Poverty Law Center, argued that schools were unconstitutional on the grounds that local tax dollars could not be spent on charter schools and that the schools could not receive funding from the state.
The argument against the schools was that they took funds away from the Jackson Public School District. White says that the legislature passed laws allowing these schools, which are public, to exist, and that the funds they receive are lawful.
“The dollars are not intended to go to a specific institution like JPS, they’re intended to be spent on the education of these children, and that’s what the whole purpose of education spending is. It’s not like these dollars were vanishing out into space,” White explained, “they were following the kids to a public charter school, where they were getting a better education in the eyes of their parents.”
White gave the example of a student was struggling at her school in the JPS and is now thriving in her charter school.
Following the decision, Governor Bryant posted a message to his Facebook page in support of the ruling.
“As I have said from the beginning, 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. I am pleased with the chancellor’s ruling.”
Reactions continued to flow in following the court decision including from Lt. Governor Tate Reeves who says that the fight will continue as the school choice debate in the state grows.
“I appreciate the Court for recognizing the Legislature’s responsibility to improve the education attainment level of all students,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “It’s time for the coalition of the status quo to stop fighting us in courts and join us in focusing on educating all Mississippi children.”
Grant Callan, founder of Empower MS says that this a “great day for children in Mississippi.”
The plaintiffs have already filled to appeal the decision, and the case will head to the Mississippi Supreme Court.