(JACKSON, MS October 13, 2022) On Thursday, Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Crystal Wise Martin ruled that a recent law which would allocate $10 million of federal pandemic relief money to infrastructure grants for private schools is unconstitutional. This ruling by Judge Martin is a major victory for Parents for Public Schools, a national organization based in Mississippi with chapters in several states.
Parents for Public Schools (PPS), represented by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)-Mississippi, Democracy Forward, and the Mississippi Center for Justice, filed a complaint in June petitioning the court to prevent the State from implementing this grant program. The attorneys representing PPS argued that Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution prohibits the use of any public funds in support of private schools, and thus, the money allocated through this law is indeed unconstitutional.
The grant program, created as the result of one law and funded by an additional law, would allow only private/independent schools in Mississippi which are members of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools to receive up to $100,000 each for infrastructure improvements, yet public schools are not eligible to apply for these grants. By contrast, the Mississippi Legislature created a loan program for public schools to improve infrastructure; however, those loans, although interest free, must be repaid to the State within 10 years. The grants to private schools do not have to be paid back.
PPS Executive Director, Joann Mickens, testified during the hearing in August that any public funding spent on private schools has a detrimental impact on public school students due to the Mississippi Legislature’s historic underfunding of public schools. “For 23 of the past 25 years, the Legislature has chosen to underfund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), which is the State portion and main source of funding for Mississippi’s public schools. One of the results of this is that we now have schools all over the state that are struggling in multiple ways, including – and especially in – infrastructure needs. For over 30 years, PPS has worked with parents, public schools, and other organizations to improve equity and student outcomes in public schools,” said Mickens.
“Parents for Public Schools advocates on behalf of public schools because each child, each family, each community, and our collective democracy depend 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. 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,” said Becky Glover, Policy Analyst at Parents for Public Schools, Inc.
Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice: “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. 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.”
“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 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.”
Parents for Public Schools, Inc. is a nonpartisan nonprofit that began in Mississippi more than 30 years ago by parents who organized to support their public schools while educating and mobilizing themselves and others to demand higher standards and better resources for each student. Following interest from other cities around the nation, the National Office for Parents for Public Schools, Inc. (PPS) was founded in 1991. Since then, PPS has become a diverse, national organization of community-based chapters whose mission is to advance the role of parents and communities in securing a high-quality public education for every child by providing professional leadership training that prepares parents and others to become equal partners with and responsible stewards of their public schools.
Democracy Forward Foundation (“Democracy Forward”) is a nonprofit legal organization founded in 2017 that litigates cases involving government action on behalf of organizations, individuals, and municipalities. The organization has taken 650 legal actions and achieved victories supporting democracy and improving the lives and well-being of people and communities. Democracy Forward Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
ACLU of Mississippi is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Mississippians guaranteed under the United States and Mississippi Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.
The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm dedicated to dismantling the state’s culture of inequity and injustice. Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.