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Mississippi court set to hear arguments in lawsuit regarding grant funding for independent schools

The suit argues that the Legislature violated Section 208 of the State Constitution by appropriating $10 million to private schools.

In June, Parents for Public Schools, Inc. (PPS), represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, Mississippi Center for Justice, and Democracy Forward, filed a lawsuit to stop Mississippi state officials from using public money to fund private schools in violation of the Mississippi Constitution.

READ MORE: Parents for Public Schools, with help from ACLU, sues MS over private schools grant program

“The issue here is that the Mississippi Constitution explicitly forbids lawmakers from appropriating public funds to any private school,” said Joshua Tom, legal director ACLU of Mississippi. “Furthermore, public funds must have a system of accountability, and private schools that are receiving taxpayer dollars have no accountability to the taxpayer for the expenditure of these public funds.”

On Tuesday, a Mississippi judge is set to hear arguments in that lawsuit regarding grant funding for independent schools claiming it violates the state’s constitution.

The suit specifically challenges Senate Bill 2780 and Senate Bill 3064, which were passed during the 2022 Mississippi Legislative session.

SB 2780 created the Independent Schools Infrastructure Grant Program Act of 2022 which eligible independent schools, or non-public sector schools, can apply for reimbursable grants that go toward water, sewer, broadband and other infrastructure needs. SB 3064 would allow for up to $10,000,000 in grant funding to be available.

As previously reported by Y’all Politics, lawmakers debated the legislation in the State Senate on April 5th of this year.  State Senator John Polk, who was in favor of the bill, said that private and independent K-12 schools also suffered during COVID, and that the Legislature should be able to help improve their conditions.  Polk also made note that lawmakers appropriated the same amount of money for these independent schools out of the CARES Act two years ago.

The groups challenging this action disagree.

“PPS unequivocally opposes taxpayer dollars being used to support non-public schools,” Policy Analyst at PPS, Becky Glover, said. “Our taxes provide a way for us to build and maintain what we, as a society, agree we all need and want, but can’t afford on our own. So, in addition to the unconstitutionality of this matter is the fact that taxpayers are the primary source of revenue for public infrastructure, as well as public goods and services. Taxes are supposed to serve and support the common good. Private schools are not public.”

Rob McDuff, Director of Impact Litigation at the Mississippi Center for Justice, said that one of the reasons we pay taxes is to support a public school system that is free of charge.

“That is why the Mississippi Constitution says that taxpayer money should only go to ‘free schools.’ People can create private schools that charge tuition, and families can pay that if they choose, but the public’s tax dollars should not go to defray their costs particularly at a time when public schools need more resources,” McDuff said.

You can read the full lawsuit below.

220615 Section 208 Complain… by yallpolitics

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