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Charter schools win key court decision, but opponents file appeal to top court

Mississippi charter school parents won a key victory Tuesday, as Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas ruled against the Southern Poverty Law Center in a lawsuit that could've cut off state and local funds for charter schools.

The SPLC has already filed for an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The original complaint filed in July 2016 questioned the constitutionality of the state’s 2013 charter school law. Charter schools receive funds from the school district where they are located — which is the Jackson Public School District for the state’s three charters — and from Mississippi Department of Education per-pupil funds.

The arguments of the SPLC in the Mississippi State Constitution were pinned on two sections: 206, which created a state education trust fund and allows local districts to levy property taxes; and 208, which requires state funds to go to what are termed "free schools."

Thomas' ruling rejected the SPLC's interpretation of both sections in favor of charter schools, writing that charter schools were indeed "free schools" that don't charge tuition to their students. He also rejected their claims that a "free school" was defined as one governed by the state superintendent of education and a local superintendent.

Charter schools are regulated by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, a state board that includes the state superintendent of education, Carey Wright.

The SPLC lawsuit said the existence of the three charters resulted in $1.85 million being transferred from JPS coffers in violation of the state’s constitution because the charters are not subject to regulation from the JPS board or the state Department of Education.

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