This is very good news.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is one of the most respected civil rights groups in the nation. It is suing the state of Mississippi for diverting funding from district schools to charter schools. SPLC argues that doing this violates the State Constitution, which explicitly says that the funding allocated to each district is to be used solely for its schools. The charter schools are not part of the district. They should not be funded in any way by taking money from the district. The public schools of Mississippi are already woefully underfunded, and the Governor and Legislature have fought efforts to increase funding.

This litigation could have national significance.

Here are a few excerpts.

“The question presented by this case is an issue of first impression. Its determination implicates constitutional issues of enormous importance: the Legislature’s power to interfere with local control of public education, and the Constitution’s restrictions on school funding. The local funding for Mississippi’s second- largest school district will be decided by this case. The Court would benefit from the thorough examination that oral argument provides….”

“Section 206 of the Mississippi Constitution allows a school district to levy an ad valorem tax, and it “clearly states that the purpose of the tax is to maintain the levying school district’s schools.” Pascagoula Sch. Dist. v. Tucker, 91 So. 3d 598, 605 (Miss. 2012). A charter school operates as its own school district. Miss. Code Ann. § 37-28-39. Yet Section 37-28-55(2) of the Mississippi Code requires a school district to transfer ad valorem revenue from its budget to charter schools that are not part of the tax-levying school district.

This case is not about whether charter schools are good or bad. This case is also not about whether the Legislature has the authority to allow charter schools in Mississippi. The Legislature indisputably has that authority.

This appeal presents a single constitutional question — the same question that the Supreme Court addressed in Tucker: “[w]hen Section 206 of the Mississippi Constitution says the purpose of the local school district tax is to maintain ‘its schools,’ can the Legislature force a district to divide its maintenance tax levy with other districts?” Tucker, 91 So. 3d at 602.

STATEMENT OF ASSIGNMENT

Rule 16(d) of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure provides three reasons why the Supreme Court should retain this case.

First, the constitutionality of Section 37-28-55(2) is “a major question of first impression,” as provided by Rule 16(d)(1).

Second, Section 37-28-55(2) has compelled the Jackson Public Schools District to transfer millions of local ad valorem tax dollars to charter schools that are not part of the district. The constitutionality of this statute is a “fundamental and urgent issue[ ] of
broad public importance requiring prompt or ultimate determination by the Supreme Court,” as provided by Rule 16(d)(2).

Third, this case presents “substantial constitutional questions as to the validity of a statute,” as provided by Rule 16(d)(3).

STATEMENT OF THE CASE I. Factual Background.

The Charter Schools Act was enacted in 2013. Miss. Code Ann. § 37-28-1, et seq. Charter schools are approved by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, and are exempt from rules, regulations, policies, and procedures established by the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, and the school district in which the charter school is geographically located. Miss. Code Ann. § 37-28-7; Miss. Code Ann. § 37-28-45(3),(5). In 2015, two charter schools opened within the geographic boundaries of the Jackson Public School District (“JPS”). In 2016 and 2018, two more charter schools opened within JPS’s geographic boundaries. In 2018, a charter school also opened within the geographic boundaries of the Clarksdale Municipal School District.

The Parents in this case live with their children in Jackson. They own their homes, and they pay ad valorem taxes levied by JPS under Section 206 of the Constitution. They all have children enrolled in JPS. R. at 114-15, R.E. at 16-17 (First Amended Complaint at ¶¶11-15). And they want for their children what most parents want for their child: the best public education that the law allows.
Since 2015, these Parents’ children have attended chronically underfunded schools that have lost millions in ad valorem tax revenue to charter schools. In Mississippi, charter schools receive funding through two revenue streams: one from the State, and one from the school district within whose geographic boundaries the charter school is located. The State provides most of a charter school’s funding through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. A smaller portion of a charter school’s funding comes from the school district where the charter school is located. When a student enrolls in a charter school, the school district where the student resides sends a pro rata portion of its ad valorem revenue to the charter school. Miss. Code Ann. § 37- 28-55(2) (hereinafter the “Local Tax Transfer Statute”).

This appeal does not concern charter school revenue from the State. The Parents expressly waive their challenge related to the state funding stream. This appeal is only about the ad valorem revenue levied by a school district under Section 206.

In Jackson, where the Parents’ children attend school, the school district’s losses of ad valorem revenue are accelerating. During the 2015-16 school year, the Local Tax Transfer Statute cost JPS schoolchildren approximately $561,000 in district ad valorem revenue. R. at 113, R.E. at 15 (First Amended Complaint at ¶5). Just two years later, during the 2017-18 school year, JPS schoolchildren lost more than $2.5 million through diverted ad valorem revenue. Exhibit A (JPS 2017-18 Charter School Payment).1 To date, in only three years, JPS schoolchildren have lost more than $4.5 million of the school district’s ad valorem funds….”

“SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT

“Section 206 of the Mississippi Constitution allows a school district to levy an ad valorem tax “to maintain its schools.” In 2012, this Court held that “Section 206 clearly states that the purpose of the tax is to maintain the levying school district’s schools.” Pascagoula Sch. Dist. v. Tucker, 91 So. 3d 598, 605 (Miss. 2012). Charter schools are not part of the school district where they are located. Miss. Code Ann. § 37-28-45(3) (“Although a charter school is geographically located within the boundaries of a particular school district and enrolls students who reside within the school district, the charter school may not be considered a school within that district under the purview of the school district’s school board.”). Because charter schools are not part of the school district levying the ad valorem tax, Section 206 forbids the school district from transferring ad valorem revenue to charter schools. Therefore, the statute requiring the transfer of district ad valorem revenue to charter schools violates Section 206 and is unconstitutional.”

Charter schools across the nation are diverting funds from local district schools, whose boards have no authority over the charters, which are independent of the district.

Why should 90% of children suffer budget cuts so that 10% of the children may attend a charter school?

That is why this case might have national implications and encourage activists to fight to keep their taxes devoted to their district schools.

Read the entire brief here.