Chancery judge prevents up to $10 million from going to a grant program that would allow private schools to use the funds.
On Thursday, the Hinds County Chancery Court ruled against the Mississippi Legislature’s attempt to direct $10 million in public funds to private schools.
The ruling states:
“Pursuant to the restrictions imposed on the State by Article 8, Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution, this Court holds that Senate Bills 2780 and 3064 violate the constitutional prohibition against the appropriation of public funds for private school recipients. The Plaintiff’s motion for Preliminary Injunction is granted. Because the Court consolidated the motion’s hearing with a trial on the merits, see Miss. R. Civ. P. 65(a)(2), the Court grants judgement for the Plaintiff on the merits and grants the request to permanently enjoin implementation of Senate Bills 2780 and 3064 and the Independent Schools Program established and funded by those bills.”
The case was brought by Parents for Public Schools (PPS), represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward.
Chancellor Crystal Wise Martin ordered that the grant program, passed during the 2022 session, violated Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution, which forbids the appropriation of “any funds…to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.”
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Mississippi’s state constitution requires that taxpayer dollars only be sent to public or “free schools.”
“Parents for Public Schools advocates on behalf of public schools because each child, each family, each community, and our collective democracy depends on education. We chose to enter this arena in Mississippi knowing that victory would not mean monetary gain for us or even for Mississippi’s public schools,” said Becky Glover, Policy Analyst at Parents for Public Schools, Inc. “We entered this argument because one of our core values is to educate all children well and equitably. In this case, we’re standing up for almost half a million children, their families, and their communities. In doing that, we stand up for a stronger, better Mississippi and against perpetuating inequity. We’re grateful to PPS parents and families who spoke up, for our legal representatives, and for the Court’s wise decision to honor the plain and clear language of our constitution.”
The lawsuit specifically challenged Senate Bill 2780 and Senate Bill 3064. SB 2780 established the grant program, Independent Schools Infrastructure Grant Program Act of 2022, and SB 3064 was the appropriation bill that coinciding with the program allowing for up to $10 million to go into the fund.
RELATED: Mississippi court set to hear arguments in lawsuit regarding grant funding for independent schools
Under this program, eligible independent schools, or non-public sector schools, could apply for reimbursable grants for water, sewer, broadband and other infrastructure needs. The grants would be funded by dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) using the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds.
Mississippi received $1.8 billion in federal pandemic funds.
Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice said the ruling was a victory for public school students across the state.
“Today’s ruling is a resounding victory for the hundreds of thousands of public school students in Mississippi. At a time when public schools are already strapped for resources, the legislature’s attempt to funnel $10 million to private schools was egregious,” Wade said. “We thank the court for its ruling but also recognize that much more must be done to foster high-quality public education for all Mississippi school children.”
The ACLU and Democracy Forward both agreed.
“We are elated with the Court’s ruling, which affirms our argument that the Mississippi Constitution explicitly forbids appropriating public funds to private schools. Public funds must have a system of accountability. Senate Bill 2780 and Senate Bill 3064 funneled taxpayer dollars to private schools, which have no responsibility to taxpayers. This outcome returns $10 million to Mississippi taxpayers,” Joshua Tom, legal director at ACLU of Mississippi.
“Today’s [Thursday] ruling is a victory for the Mississippi Constitution and every person who cares about public education in the state,” said Will Bardwell, Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward. “When the state legislature violated the Constitution by directing public money to private schools, it did more than merely continue Mississippi’s shameful history of undermining its children’s public schools. It broke the law, period. Today’s ruling makes clear: no one, not even the Mississippi legislature, is above the law.”
Read the full ruling below: