THE LATEST: Arguments in this matter were held on August 23, 2022. These arguments followed the filing on June 17, 2022 of a Motion for Preliminary Injunction to stop Mississippi state officials from funneling public money to private schools in violation of the Mississippi Constitution. The Motion urges the court to “enjoin the Department of Finance and Administration from administering, implementing, maintaining, or otherwise putting into effect the “Independent Schools Infrastructure Grants Program” provided for in Senate Bill 2780 and funded by Senate Bill 3064.”
The complaint was filed on June 15, 2022 in the Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi. It argues that the Mississippi Legislature violated Section 208 of the State Constitution by appropriating $10 million to private schools. The State Constitution requires that taxpayer money must be spent only on public “free schools.” The plaintiffs are represented by Democracy Forward, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, and the Mississippi Center for Justice.
If this private schools funding mechanism is allowed to proceed, it will irreparably injure the interests of hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren and Mississippi taxpayers. Read the press release or the latest from Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Will Bardwell.
Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution is clear and unambiguous: public money cannot be used to fund private schools. It expressly forbids appropriating “any funds…to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.” Miss. Const., art. VIII § 208.
The lawsuit claims that by passing Senate Bill 2780 and Senate Bill 3064, which together created a funding mechanism to funnel public funds to private schools, the Legislature did precisely what the Mississippi Constitution forbids. These bills both passed in April of 2022 and are set to take effect July 1st. SB 2780 instructs the Department of Finance and Administration to oversee a program that provides handouts of up to $100,000 to private schools in the state for infrastructure projects, and SB 3064 appropriates $10 million toward the program. This funding program is open to private schools only; public schools are ineligible to participate.
A May 2021 report by Mississippi’s Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review showed that Mississippi spends less per pupil than each of its surrounding states – Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. According to analysis by the National Education Association, Mississippi teachers are paid the lowest average salary in the nation.