Miss. Supreme Court must rule on private school grant program

Miss. Supreme Court must rule on private school grant program

Miss. Supreme Court must rule on private school grant program

With $10 million in COVID pandemic funds on the line, a decision is looming from the Mississippi Supreme Court over spending public money on private schools in the state.

The state’s highest court heard oral arguments Feb. 6 after a public education advocacy group sued to stop a law that set up a grant program for private schools.

The lawsuit, which dates back to 2022, was filed by a national group, Parents for Public Schools. That group is represented by the ACLU and the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy.

A whopping $1.8 billion in pandemic funds poured into Mississippi from Congress, which meant state legislators had to decide how to spend those funds in one of the country’s poorest states. One bill signed by Gov. Tate Reeves created a grant program for infrastructure improvements at private schools if they are accredited and a member of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools.

The maximum amount allowed is $100,000 per school. No schools have received any of the funding yet because of the lawsuit. 

Shane Blanton, executive director of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools, tells AFN public schools in Mississippi received an “inordinate amount” of pandemic funds compared to the grant fund that was set up for private schools.

In its court filing, the Mississippi attorney general’s office made a similar argument. Private school students “benefitted massively” from the pandemic funds compared to the state’s private school students, which state attorneys called “lopsidedly” in comparison.

Lynn Fitch, the Mississippi attorney general, is representing the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration because that state agency is overseeing the grant program.

In an interview with AFN, Blanton points out that private schools currently receive federal education funds under Title 2, which is professional development. They also benefit under Title 4, which is financial aid for colleges and universities.

The issue of federal funds already going to private schools did not go ignored by the other side.

“The fact that the private school funding at issue here originated with federal funds makes no difference,” attorneys for Parents for Public Schools, in their court filing, argued. “These particular federal funds became part of the state treasury, and the Legislature chose to spend them to help schools — and, more specifically, private schools.”