The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a suit against the Mississippi Charter School ACT (CSA) this week stating that the diversion of taxpayer money that would ordinarily go to traditional public schools is “unconstitutional.”
On Monday, 11 July, the SPLC called for the court to cancel funding provisions for the Mississippi CSA, which the organization feels would cause financial harm to existing public schools catered to disadvantaged children. The reason the SPLC put forth is that the Mississippi Constitution requires that schools be under the State’s supervision to receive funding, which is not the case for charter schools functioning independently and therefore beyond the oversight of the Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education and other local education boards. As a result, the organization feels these schools are not entitled to State funding.
There are currently two charter schools running in Mississippi where in one year alone more than $1.85 million was taken from the district to fund them. The SPLC believes that that money could have gone to remunerating 42 public school teachers. Both schools are located within the Jackson Public School District where a third is set to open. The organization predicted that should another charter school be established. The district could lose more than $4 million during the 2016-2017 year, to the detriment of “the majority of students in Jackson,” said a plaintiff in the case and mother of two, Cassandra Overton-Welchlin.
SPLC limiting the education opportunities
The National Alliance for Charter Public Schools disagrees with the SPLC’s accusations and feels that the organization seeks to protect a flawed education system instead of looking for alternatives that could increase the opportunities available for the students of the district.
“SPLC clearly prefers forcing students to stay in failing schools rather than having the freedom to attend a better school,” President and CEO of the National Alliance for Charter Public Schools, Nina Rees, stated in a press release.
Rees’ sentiments were shared by Mississippi state director for Americans for Prosperity, Russell Latino, who feels that parents should have different options about the location and type of education their children receive. He expressed his disappointment toward the Southern Poverty Law Center in their decision to limit the education opportunities available for disadvantaged children and believes that the lawsuit goes against the reason for the organization’s existence.
The traditional public school system, to which Latino referred as “top-down” and “one-size-fits-all” is in a state of severe financial crisis, according to an article published in the Clarion-Ledger in May this year. Superintendent of the Jackson Public School District, Cedrick Gray, reported that the district is looking at the strategies used by other schools in the nation with similar problems to find solutions. Gray admitted that should funding continue to be a significant problem, subjects such as art and music may have to be discontinued or worse still, the district will be forced to close some of its schools.
The suit was filed in the First Judicial District of the Chancery Court of Hinds County.