Mississippi’s top court to hear arguments over spending public money on private schools

Feb 5, 2024, 11:03 PM

FILE - Tanya Marsaw, a member of the nonprofit group Parents For Public Schools, listens as attorne...

FILE - Tanya Marsaw, a member of the nonprofit group Parents For Public Schools, listens as attorneys argue in Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss., Aug. 23, 2022, in a lawsuit claiming the state is violating its own constitution with a grant program for private schools. The chancery judge later blocked the program, and the Mississippi Supreme Court was set to hear arguments in the case on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in a dispute over a state law that would put $10 million of federal pandemic relief money into infrastructure grants for private schools.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Crystal Wise Martin blocked the law in October 2022 after Parents for Public Schools sued the state. The nonprofit group argued the grants would give private schools a competitive advantage over public schools.

“Any appropriation of public funds to be received by private schools adversely affects schools and their students,” Martin wrote. “Taxpayer funding for education is finite.”

The lawsuit cited a section of the Mississippi Constitution that prohibits the use of public money for any school that is not “a free school.”

During the 2022 legislative session, Mississippi’s Republican-controlled House and Senate made plans to spend most of the $1.8 billion that the state received for pandemic relief.

One bill signed by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves created a grant program to help private schools pay for water, broadband and other infrastructure projects. Another allocated the $10 million of federal money for the program as of July 1, 2022.

The program allowed grants of up to $100,000 to any in-state school that is a member of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools and is accredited by a state, regional or national organization.

Public schools could not apply for the infrastructure grants. Legislators created a program to provide interest-free loans to public schools to improve buildings and other facilities, with money coming from the state. Those loans must be repaid within 10 years. The grants to private schools would not need to be repaid.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward filed the lawsuit in June 2022 on behalf of Parents for Public Schools, an advocacy group founded more than 30 years ago.

“The fact that the private school funding at issue here originated with federal funds makes no difference,” attorneys representing Parents of Public Schools wrote in papers filed with the state Supreme Court. “These particular federal funds became part of the state treasury, and the Legislature chose to spend them to help schools — and, more specifically, private schools.”

The private schools’ infrastructure grant program was to be overseen by the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration.

Representing DFA, the state attorney general’s office wrote in a filing to the Supreme Court that public school students “have benefited massively — and, compared to private school students, lopsidedly” from federal pandemic relief money.

State attorneys also wrote that the Mississippi Constitution only blocks the Legislature from sending money directly to private schools.

“It does not bar the Legislature from appropriating funds to an agency with directions to support non-free schools,” the state attorneys wrote.

The chancery judge, Martin, wrote in her ruling that Mississippi’s public education system has been “chronically underfunded.” A 1997 state law established a formula called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, intended to ensure schools receive enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. Legislators have fully funded the formula only two years.

United States News

Associated Press

Three former Department of Education employees charged with defrauding Arizona voucher program

Three former Arizona Department of Education employees were indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges in what prosecutors say was a scheme to defraud more than $600,000 from an education voucher program that has drawn criticism for its skyrocketing costs and lax regulation by the state. Prosecutors said Thursday that the three employees approved applications […]

22 minutes ago

Associated Press

EPA to delay rules for some power plants until after November election

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it is delaying planned rules to curb emissions from existing natural gas plants that release harmful air pollutants and contribute to global warming. The agency said it is still on track to finalize rules for coal-fired power plants and new gas plants that have not come […]

43 minutes ago

Associated Press

Judge holds veteran journalist Catherine Herridge in civil contempt for refusing to divulge source

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge held veteran investigative reporter Catherine Herridge in civil contempt on Thursday for refusing to divulge her source for a series of stories during her time at Fox News about a Chinese American scientist who was investigated by the FBI but never charged. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington […]

55 minutes ago

President Joe Biden, second from the right, looks over the southern border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024...

Associated Press

On the Rio Grande, 300 miles apart, Biden and Trump try to use immigration to election advantage

Three hundred miles apart, President Joe Biden and likely Republican challenger Donald Trump walked along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas Thursday.

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Maryland State House locked down, armed officers seen responding

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland State House was locked down for an undisclosed security threat late Thursday afternoon. Reporters with officers on the ground floor of the building were told to lock their doors shortly after 5 p.m. by an aide to Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones. About 30 minutes later, police escorted […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Indiana Legislature approves bill adding additional verification steps to voter registration

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers passed legislation Thursday that expands the power of the state to verify voters’ addresses and adds an additional residency requirement for first-time voters. The bill’s Republican sponsor state Sen. Mike Gaskill called it a “commonsense bill” that adds protections against fraud, but voting advocates have blasted the changes as new […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Mississippi’s top court to hear arguments over spending public money on private schools