Jackson, MS—Yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a lawsuit alleging that the Mississippi Public Charter Schools Act of 2013 is unconstitutional under the Mississippi Constitution. We are confident the claims will be answered in court. Today, we would like to make a few points about both the substance of the lawsuit and its timing.
First, this lawsuit is not about whether the two public charter schools that have operated in the City of Jackson for the past year are providing an excellent education to the public school children that they serve. It is not about whether public charter schools are open to all children in the City of Jackson (they are), whether the public school students attending the schools are representative of the City of Jackson in terms of race and poverty (they are), or whether these students were genuinely underserved prior to the opening of the two public charter schools (they were).
In fact, this lawsuit is not about the quality of education that children receive in public charter schools at all. This lawsuit is about money, specifically whether the funding structure for charter schools satisfies the Mississippi Constitution. SPLC’s lawsuit is based on a belief that public charter school students—real public school children from some of the most underserved communities in the City of Jackson—do not deserve the public dollars raised in their own communities to support their education.
Secondly, the timing of this lawsuit is harmful to the very children SPLC has historically tried to protect. Public charter schools in Mississippi are no longer hypothetical. Two public charter schools have been operating in Jackson for a year, and a third is scheduled to open next month. Today is July 12. School starts in just a few weeks. Nearly 500 children and their parents must now wonder if their public school will open on time or at all. What a statement to make about the value placed on the education of these children.
Over the last year, parents at both public charter schools have given us powerful testimonies about what the opportunity to attend these schools means to their children and their families. In the face of the never-ending game of political grandstanding, these families will not let us forget the truth: education is freedom. The parents who chose to send their children to a public charter school did so because their children were not thriving in the traditional system. For each of us, but for low-income parents especially, excellent public schools represent our best hope that our children will have a better future.
Mississippi First is passionately committed to public education for all children. We believe that the children who remain in Jackson Public Schools (JPS) are every bit as deserving as the children who left JPS to transfer to an authorized public charter school. Our body of work testifies to that fact.
Our question to the supporters of this lawsuit is this: how does this lawsuit ensure that all children in the City of Jackson have access to an excellent public education? In answering this question, we expect more than platitudes and surmises: we expect evidence; we expect results.
We stand ready to fight for the right of every child to access an excellent public education, whether in a traditional public school or a public charter school. This lawsuit is not the way.
The mission of Mississippi First is to champion transformative policy solutions ensuring educational excellence for every Mississippi child. Mississippi First is a leading voice for state-funded pre-K, high-quality public charter schools, and rigorous state learning standards. For more information about Mississippi First, visit www.mississippifirst.org or contact Executive Director Rachel Canter at 601.398.9008.