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Southern Poverty Law Center charter school suit receives backlash

JACKSON, Miss.- The Southern Poverty Law Center recently filed a lawsuit against Mississippi charter schools citing them as unconstitutional because they get their funding from local tax dollars. 

Parents with students at the schools joined with Mike Hurst and filed a motion to intervene in the case Wednesday.

In the SPLC’s suit the parents called for the de-funding of Mississippi charter schools by state tax dollars. They claim that since the schools are not under the jurisdiction of local school districts that it is unconstitutional.

They also claimed the schools are not free.

However, Grant Callen Director of Empower Mississippi said this couldn’t be further from the truth. He said the only limit charter schools have on students is how many they can accept at a time.

“The purpose of our state federal and local education dollars are to educate students that live within that district, charter schools absolutely do that,” said Callen.

So far Mississippi is home to three charter schools, all of which are located in the Jackson Public School District and are at maximum capacity. Callen said there is actually a wait list for students who are trying to get in.

Attorney Mike Hurst said there is too much confusion on what a charter school is and who it is helping.

“One of my parents told me the other day ‘Mike, my child was on medication to deal with the stress she was going through at JPS….after only one month at this new charter school they’ve been able to take her off her meds,'” said Mike Hurst.

Hurst said a charter school is nothing more than a free public school, and under the Charter School Act you can only open one in a C, D, or F district.

“A charter school is nothing more than a free, public school in a particular district,” said Hurst.

Some have claimed that charter schools are just another way to re-segregate education, but Callen said if you take a look a the numbers that is not the case.

“They’re located in some of the most challenging zip codes in the state, and their educating children who desperately need an education and they are overwhelmingly minority and poor,” said Callen.

President of the Center for Public Policy, Forrest Thigpen said he doesn’t know where this suit is coming from, or what the SPLC’s goal is by shutting down the schools.

“You’re going to force them (student) back into the system that they have escaped from because you don’t like it that the school district isn’t controlling the money?” said Thigpen.

He says charter schools are not meant to take away from regular public schools, but a means to provide hope for families who have not had success in those environments.

Thursday is the deadline for defendants to respond to the SPLC. It will be decided in Hinds County first, but the suit could be appealed to the State Supreme Court.

“These are real live human beings whose educational livelihoods hang in the balance,”said Callen.

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