For These Families, the School Choice Fight Isn’t Just Political – It’s Personal

But they don’t come without problems. In July 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of parents with students in JPS challenging the constitutionality of the Charter Schools Act. SPLC claims that the charter schools are being illegally funded with tax dollars that are required to go to traditional public schools that are controlled by the state. In addition to the Jackson Public School District, the lawsuit named Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi Department of Education as defendants, but since then, other parties with a vested interest in the outcome have joined as defendants as well.

“The answer to Mississippi’s public education problems isn’t to siphon money away from public schools,” said Will Bardwell, one of the SPLC attorneys arguing the case. “But that’s exactly what the Charter Schools Act does: It takes millions of dollars out of public schools that already have been underfunded for decades. Mississippi should be investing more in public schools, not less.”…

…While the Mississippi lawsuit is in state court and therefore the verdict won’t necessarily have a federal impact, Jon Valant, a fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said it’s part of a wave of litigation happening around the country.

“We’re seeing a lot of action in courts right now about the legality of school choice programs,” he said. “That’s happening at the same time that we’re seeing a change in the politics related to school choice and charter schools, in part because President Trump and Secretary DeVos are divisive figures who are closely associated with school choice reforms. It’s an interesting and very active time for these issues.”