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

Feb 5, 2024, 11:03 PM

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

Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear a challenge to governor’s 400-year school funding veto

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ partial veto that locked in a school funding increase for the next 400 years, the justices announced Monday. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Litigation Center filed a lawsuit in April arguing the governor exceeded his authority. The group […]

45 minutes ago

Associated Press

Retired AP reporter Hoyt Harwell dies at 93. He covered key events in the American South

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Hoyt Garland Harwell, a longtime reporter for The Associated Press who covered key events in the American South and was a mentor to young reporters, has died. He was 93. Harwell died at home June 12 following a brief illness, according to his obituary. Harwell worked for the AP for 42 […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Federal appellate panel sends Michigan pipeline challenge to state court

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s lawsuit seeking to shut down part of a petroleum pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac belongs in state court, a federal appellate panel ruled Monday. The pipeline’s operator, Enbridge Inc., moved the case from state court to federal court more than two years past the deadline for changing […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Small plane with 1 aboard crashes into a Massachusetts river

LAWRENCE, Massachusetts (AP) — A small plane with one pilot aboard crashed into a Massachusetts river on Monday, according to authorities. It wasn’t immediately clear if the pilot survived the crash or was injured. The Federal Aviation Administration said the single-engine Van’s Aircraft RV-6A crashed into the Merrimack River in the town of Lawrence at […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

No lie: Perfectly preserved centuries-old cherries unearthed at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

MOUNT VERNON, Va. (AP) — George Washington never did cut down the cherry tree, despite the famous story to the contrary, but he did pack away quite a few bottles of the fruit at his Mount Vernon home. Dozens of bottles of cherries and berries — impossibly preserved in storage pits uncovered from the cellar […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Georgia inmate had ‘personal relationship’ with worker he shot and killed, prison official says

GLENNVILLE, Ga. (AP) — An inmate who shot and killed a kitchen worker at a Georgia prison before fatally shooting himself had a personal relationship with the woman, a prison official said Monday. Georgia Department of Corrections spokesperson Lori Benoit said in an email statement the shooting early Sunday at Smith State Prison was an […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.


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.

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