Thursday, August 23, 2018
Diversion of District Funds to Mississippi Charter Schools Is Unconstitutional by Education Law Center
Education Law Center has filed an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," brief in Araujo v. Bryant, a case before the Mississippi Supreme Court challenging the unconstitutional diversion of school district funds to charter schools.
The Mississippi Constitution allows districts to levy ad valorem property taxes exclusively to maintain their own schools. But the State's charter school law forces districts to transfer the per-pupil amount of those locally raised funds to charter schools when students living in the district attend them. Under Mississippi's charter law, a state agency authorizes charter schools, and districts have no control over their operation.
The Araujo lawsuit challenging the charter transfer statute was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of parents and students in the Jackson Public Schools (JPS). ELC's amicus brief provides the Court with crucial information about the negative impact on public school districts, especially JPS, of this unconstitutional diversion of local funds.
ELC's amicus brief explains that JPS serves a high concentration of students who are at-risk due to household and community poverty and therefore require increased educational resources. This need for additional resources for low-income students is recognized by the State of Mississippi's school funding formula. Yet JPS receives less aid than the formula requires to provide students with an adequate education. Over the last decade, the State has consistently failed to provide the funding amounts prescribed by its own formula, robbing JPS of millions of dollars in State funding each year.
ELC's brief also details the increasing amounts of ad valorem taxes JPS has been forced to send to charter schools. Since the 2015-16 school year, JPS has transferred over $4.5 million to State-authorized charter schools, an amount that will continue to increase. Ad valorem tax revenue is a critical component of the JPS budget, and JPS residents have chosen to tax themselves far beyond the minimum rate set by the State in order to support their schools. As ELC explains, insufficient State funding for the district - compounded by the diversion of ad valorem tax revenues to charter schools - results in a lack of essential education resources for JPS students.
Finally, ELC's brief provides an overview of the growing body of research from several states demonstrating the negative fiscal impact of charter schools on local school districts. Districts have fixed costs that are not offset when a student moves to a charter school. Districts must continue to educate at-risk student populations requiring additional resources, including poor students, English language learners and students with disabilities. The transfer of per-pupil funds to charters schools leads to reductions in programs, staff, and services needed for the education of district students. Loss of revenue to charter schools, combined with existing underfunding - as is the case for JPS - creates significant deficits in education resources for district students.
ELC's brief asks the Mississippi Supreme Court to declare that the statute requiring the transfer of district ad valorem taxes to charter schools violates the State Constitution. The brief highlights that the unconstitutional diversion of local tax revenue to charter schools has a material, adverse effect on JPS students, who are being deprived of the funds required for an adequate public education and the opportunity to succeed in school.