Charter parents want to join charter school fight

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A group of Jackson parents is seeking to help defend state public charter schools against  a lawsuit claiming the funding of those charter schools is unconstitutional.

Gladys Overton, one of the three parents seeking to be listed as defendants in the lawsuit, is a parent of a child at ReImagine Prep and two children in Jackson Public Schools.

She said while her daughter was performing well academically in public school, she experienced bullying and had to take medication as a way to cope. A month after attending ReImagine as a 5th grader, however, she was able to be weaned off the medication.

“Today I’m here for my child. The SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) has made a direct threat to our school and my family by challenging how free public charter schools are funded,” Overton said at a press conference Wednesday. “If free public charter schools are unable to use local tax or state tax dollars to operate, they will close.”

Mike Hurst, the attorney representing a group of charter school parents challenging the Southern Poverty Law Center's lawsuit, speaks at a press conference Wednesday.

Kate Royals, Mississippi Today

Mike Hurst, the attorney representing a group of charter school parents challenging the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lawsuit, speaks at a press conference Wednesday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, representing a group of parents with children in the Jackson Public School District, filed a lawsuit in July challenging the way charter schools in the state are funded.

The lawsuit points to two sections of the Mississippi constitution that state a school district’s ad valorem taxes, or local funding, may only be used for the district to maintain schools it oversees. It also cites another section that says the Legislature must not appropriate money to a school that is not a “free school,” a category the lawsuit argues does not include charter schools.

The lawsuit named Gov. Phil Bryant, the state education department and Jackson Public School District as defendants.

The Mississippi Justice Institute in its filing on Wednesday is asking that the group of charter school parents be added as defendants in the lawsuit since they are “directly impacted and inordinately affected by whatever outcome” of the lawsuit.

Overton is listed as an intervenor in the motion, along with Ella Mae James and Tiffany Minor. James has two children who graduated from Jackson public schools and two children currently at ReImagine Prep. Minor has two children currently in Jackson public schools and one child attending Smilow Prep.

“Despite what the SPLC says, their lawsuit is about shutting down charter schools, shutting down parents’ choice for the best educational opportunities for their children,” Mike Hurst, the attorney representing the group and the Mississippi Justice Institute, said.

Mississippi’s charter schools are operated by nonprofit organizations that appoint a board for the school. The state’s first two charter schools opened last year in Jackson and the third, Smilow Prep, opened earlier this month. Each charter school operates under its own board and the state’s seven-member Charter School Authorizer Board, which oversees the charter system and approves applications.

Public charter schools are funded by the state on a per-pupil basis according to the school’s average daily attendance, or the number of students who attend 63 percent or more of a school day. They also receive local dollars from ad valorem tax receipts. When a student enrolls in a charter school, money that would have gone to the public school district follows the student to the charter school.