Will Mississippi's two charter schools close? The Southern Poverty Law Center asked a Hinds County Chancellor yesterday to declare Mississippi charter schools unconstitutional and illegal. The nominal plaintiffs are John Sewell, Kimberly Sewell, Evelyn Araujo, Charles Araujo, Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, Lutaya Stewart, and Arthur Brown*. The case was assigned to Chancellor Denise Sweet Owens. The suit names Governor Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Department of Education, and the Jackson Public School District as defendants.
The complaint claims the Charter School Act (CSA) "diverts public money to charter schools" from ad valorem taxes and "per-pupil funds from the Mississippi Department of Education". It is argued that the ad valorem tax revenue belongs to the local school district and can not be given to a school outside of the district's "control".
SPLC also posits that the Mississippi Constitution bars the legislature from giving money to any school that is not a "free school". However, SPLC argues that a free school isn't just one that charges no tuition. A "free school" must be also be under the control of both the state and local Superintendents of Education.
It is alleged that JPS lost more than $1.85 million in funding to charter schools in 2015-2016. JPS could could have spent "$1.85 million on 42 teacher salaries, 18 new school buses, guidance counselors for 6,870 students, or vocational education programming for 6,672 students", and 20 new bowties for the Superintendent. SPLC claims MDE and JPS provided $960,514 to Reimagine Prep and $896,318 to Midtown Charter. (p.10)
Two charter schools currently operate in Jackson and a third is scheduled to open in August. SPLC claims JPS will lose $4 million in the upcoming school year to these schools. However, the plaintiffs argue these schools are a harbinger of doom for public school districts in Mississippi. The third page spells out the sky is falling scenario:
7. The CSA heralds a financial cataclysm for public school districts across the state. In the spring of 2016, charter school companies submitted Letters of Intent to open a total of fourteen new charter schools throughout Mississippi. Eleven of these proposed charter schools would be within JPS' s boundaries, and the other three proposed charter schools would be within Sunflower County, Tunica County, and Newton County.
The plaintiffs ask the court to declare charter schools are not "free schools" and cut off their state and local funding. Attorneys William Bardwell and Lydia Wright represent the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs all provided signed affidavits that are included in the documents posted below.
8. Although not all proposed charter schools subsequently submitted applications for approval, the future is clear: as a direct result of the unconstitutional CSA funding provisions, traditional public schools will have fewer teachers, books, and educational resources. These schools will no longer be able to provide Mississippi schoolchildren the education that they are constitutionally entitled to receive.
The Southern Poverty Law Center bragged about its lawsuit in a press release posted on its website:
Mississippi is funding its charter schools through an unconstitutional scheme that diverts public tax dollars from traditional public schools, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The lawsuit calls for the court to strike down the funding provisions of the Mississippi Charter School Act (CSA). The Mississippi Constitution requires schools to be under the supervision of the state and local boards of education to receive public funding. But under the CSA, charter schools receive 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 are accountable to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, a body that receives 3 percent of the public funding that goes to charter schools.
“A school operating outside the authority of the state board of education and the local school board cannot expect to receive public taxpayer money,” said Jody Owens, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Mississippi office. “The state constitution is clear on this matter.”
Two charter schools are currently operating in Mississippi, 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 is set to open within JPS’s geographic boundaries, the district stands to lose more than $4 million in the 2016-17 school year, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit warns that the opening of more charter schools will compound the financial harm. There are currently applications pending for four more charter schools. Each charter school would be located within the Jackson Public School District, drawing more funding from the district.
“I sent my children to a public school because I believe in traditional public schools,” said Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, a plaintiff in the case who is president of the Jackson Public Schools Parent Teacher Association and mother of two children enrolled there. “I’m outraged that state and local tax dollars are funding charter schools in a way that threatens the existence of important services, including services for those with special needs, at my child’s school. As a taxpayer, I expect my property tax dollars will be used to support traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of students in Jackson.”
The lawsuit was filed in the First Judicial District of the Chancery Court of Hinds County.
John Sewell is the Communications Director at Millsaps College.
Cassandra Overton-Welchlin is the President of the JPS PTA. She is a Kellogg fellow and once worked at Southern Echo.
Charles Araujo is on the faculty of Jackson State University. He was formerly employed at JPS for 21 years.
Evelyn Araujo is a teacher at the Mississippi School for the Deaf.
Kimberly Sewell is the Director of Children's Religious Formation at St. Andrew's Cathedral.
Lutaya Stewart is a special education teacher at John Hopkins Elementary (JPS).
Kingfish note: Let's see. The Southern Poverty Law Center files lawsuits over discipline in schools. Public schools are becoming zoos because principals and administrators are rightfully scared of lawsuits. SPLC is trying to tie the hands of the Youth Court Judge in Hinds County so we can put more Antwain Dukes and Gerome Moores on the street. Now the SPLC goes to war for a school district that is failing and is out of control and seeks to shut down schools that are actually getting the job done and giving relief to these poor children. Reminds one of the Soviet Commissars who would execute farmers if they couldn't grow crops during a severe drought. Reality doesn't matter, just The Cause.
The post referred to SPLC as the prime mover in this lawsuit instead of the plaintiffs. Sources inform JJ that the Southern Poverty Law Center went shopping for plaintiffs and found this group. However, this was all instigated by SPLC.
Readers should be able to download the file posted below free of charge. If there is a problem, shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and a copy will be sent to you.