HARRISON: Could constitutional issues arise form charter school law?

Many believe language in the Mississippi Constitution would prevent the state from developing a voucher program to pay tuition for students to attend private schools.

The language is Section 208 of the Constitution, which reads in part “nor shall any funds be appropriated toward the support of any sectarian school, or to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.”

Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution is generally referred to as the Blaine Amendment, and similar language can be found in 36 state Constitutions, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. According to various accounts, the amendment dates backs to the late 1800s as the growing number of Catholic immigrants coming to the United States began to start their own schools because of their dissatisfaction with the strong Protestant influence in the existing schools. The amendment was designed to ensure Catholic schools did not receive any public funds.

Many now do not see the Blaine language as an attack on Catholicism, but simply as a roadblock – for better or worse – preventing public funds from going to private entities.

Louisiana is one of the few states in the nation that does not have similar language in its state Constitution. Yet, the Louisiana Supreme Court by a 6-1 ruling has found that state’s school voucher program unconstitutional.

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal