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Mississippi court rejects Southern Poverty Law Center’s anti-charter lawsuit

A judge has rejected a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center claiming that Mississippi’s charter school law violates the state’s constitution.

In his ruling, Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas wrote, “This court cannot find that plaintiffs herein have proven unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The suit, which SPLC filed on behalf of seven Jackson Public School District parents in 2016, would have cut off state and local funding to charter schools, effectively shutting them down. There are currently three charter schools in the state serving more than 1000 students and two more charters are scheduled to open this fall.

Reimagine Prep in Jackson is one of three charters currently operating in Mississippi.

Charter schools provide much-needed educational options to families in Mississippi, which consistently ranks among the poorest states in the country. Overall educational attainment in the Magnolia State is depressingly low. Mississippi has nearly as many high school dropouts as it does college graduates. For African-Americans, the statistics are particularly disturbing. In 2015, only 14% of black fourth-graders and 8% of black eighth graders were proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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That’s why SPLC’s legal assault on charters have left many people scratching their heads. It’s hard to understand why an organization with a long history of fighting white supremacists and protecting the civil rights of marginalized groups is trying to shut down schools that primarily serve low-income, African-American students.

Yet as I’ve noted previously, SPLC has embraced an anti-charter strategy in recent years, particularly in New Orleans, where the local SPLC office launched an aggressive effort to undermine and discredit the city’s charter-driven reforms.

Unfortunately, their attack on Mississippi’s charter schools is far from over. Shortly after Judge Thomas issued his decision on Tuesday, SPLC attorney Will Bardwell filed a notice of appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“This case was always going to be decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court,” Bardwell said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We are happy to have a chance to present our argument to them.”

Hopefully Mississippi’s highest court will end up rejecting that argument. Meanwhile, the battle continues.

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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