Lawsuit seeks to pull state funding from Mississippi charter schools

Lawsuit seeks to pull state funding from Mississippi charter schools

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - A lawsuit filed Monday claims Mississippi is funding its charter schools through an unconstitutional scheme that diverts public tax dollars from traditional public schools.

The suit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, calls for the court to strike down the funding provisions of the Mississippi Charter School Act.

According to the SPLC, the state 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 three 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.

The lawsuit claims that in one school year, more than $1.85 million was diverted from the district to fund the two charter schools. That amount could have paid the salaries of 42 public school teachers, according to the complaint. Advocates worry that a third charter school, set to open within JPS's geographic boundaries, would mean the district could lose more than $4 million in the 2016-17 school year.

"I sent my children to a public school because I believe in traditional public schools," said Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, a plaintiff in the case 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. Read the full complaint here:

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