Parents group fights to keep public money from being  spent on private schools

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The public schools of Mississippi would have been shut down at many points over the past century if the ultraconservative and racist forces in the state had their way.

A three-member panel of Mississippi Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments on February 6 over whether the state can use $10 million in federal subsidies for infrastructure development and other functions at private schools and academies.

Parents for Public Schools, Inc. sued the State Department of Finance and Administration in June 2022 for diverting the $10 million of federally supplied COVID-19 recovery money from public use to private schools.

“This is a case about a lot more than $10 million,” said Will Bardwell, one of the attorneys seeking to block the giveaway of public money. “This is a case about part of Mississippi’s constitution that reserves all the state’s education funding for public schools.”

Gov. Tate Reeves decided to use part of the $1.8 billion of the federal relief money to provide infrastructure, water, broadband, and other services to private, mostly white schools in the state. None of the state’s public schools, however, would have been allowed to apply for these infrastructure grants.

Attorney Justin Matheny, arguing on behalf of the Attorney General’s office, said Parents for Public Schools had no standing in the case and that the $10 million did not reduce the funds made available to the public schools. He urged the Supreme Court panel of three to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaints.  

The battle over public schools in Mississippi dates back to the Reconstruction era, when developing a public school system was a fundamental part of the state’s rebuilding agenda. Mississippi’s Old South conservatives and holdovers from the Confederacy were just as determined to tear the system down. As late as 1962, their efforts in the state legislature came close to defunding the public schools and diverting all school money to private institutions. That piece of legislation, unlawful on its face under the U.S. Constitution, failed to pass.  

Public minded groups like the Mississippi NAACP,  Parents for Public Schools, the Mississippi Center for Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union have been able to keep the reactionary deconstructionists at bay in recent years, but they keep coming back with renewed determination in every new legislative session.

It is uncertain when the Supreme Court justices will render a decision.

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Parents group fights to keep public money from being  spent on private schools

By Earnest McBride
February 23, 2024