Mississippi Supreme Court hears arguments over using public funds for private schools
The justices on Tuesday heard arguments in a dispute over the state’s attempt to allocate federal pandemic relief funds for private schools. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, in April 2022, signed two bills that allocated $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to create a grant program for private schools to complete infrastructure projects. The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, and the Democracy Forward Foundation in June 2022 filed a lawsuit on behalf of Parents for Public Schools. The groups argued that Section 208 of the state constitution prohibits public funds from being used to support schools affiliated with a religious group or are not free. The groups said that the funds should only be available for public schools.
How was the funding allocated? The Mississippi legislature in 2022 made plans to spend $1.8 billion in federal ARPA funding the state received for pandemic relief. Lawmakers gave the money to support water infrastructure projects, child protective services, public safety departments, and health programs. State representatives also passed Senate Bills 2780 and 3064 to create and fund the Independent Schools Infrastructure Grant Program. Under the program, private schools accredited by a state, regional, or national organization that are members of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools could apply for grants of up to $100,000 to fund infrastructure improvements. Mississippi public schools received $1.6 billion in separate ARPA Elementary and Secondary School Relief funds from the federal government.
What has happened so far in this case? Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Crystal Wise Martin, in October 2022, granted a permanent injunction to block the disbursement of the funds. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch appealed the decision in May 2023, arguing that Section 208 does not apply because the funds are federal funding, not state funds.
Dig deeper: Read Anna Sylvestre’s report in Schooled about how Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged lawmakers to consider a proposal for education savings accounts.
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