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.
The suit, filed in the Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi, 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.”
Specifically, the suit challenges Senate Bill 2780 and Senate Bill 3064, which together, created a funding mechanism to funnel public funds to private schools. 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.
This violates Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution, which makes clear that public money cannot be used to fund private schools. That section expressly forbids appropriating “any funds…to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.”
“PPS unequivocally opposes taxpayer dollars being used to support non-public schools,” said Becky Glover, policy analyst at PPS. “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.”
"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."
“Public education is a bedrock of our democracy, which is why Section 208 of the Constitution is clear and unambiguous: spending public money on private schools is never allowed,” said Will Bardwell, senior counsel at Democracy Forward. “Thus, the Legislature has done precisely what the Mississippi Constitution forbids. We look forward to urging the courts to end this obviously unconstitutional conduct.”
“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,” said Rob McDuff, director of impact litigation at the Mississippi Center for Justice.