Should charter schools get property tax money? Mississippi Supreme Court hears arguments

Schools are required to employ licensed teachers in order to meet state accreditation requirements. But not all districts have that option. Wochit

The state Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday morning about whether it’s constitutional for local communities to help fund charter schools through property taxes.

That question is at the center of the three-year-old case brought by a group of Jackson school parents with children enrolled in the city’s traditional public schools.

Four charters are located in Jackson.

Local property taxes are a financial lifeline for the schools.

One charter’s challenge: Can ReImagine Prep grow kids by several grade levels in 1 year?

Lawyers with the Southern Poverty Law Center representing the parents argued in court filings that picking up the tab has come at the expense of the second-largest school district in the state.

Since 2015, JPS has allocated more than $4.5 million in local taxes to charter schools operating within the district’s boundaries. With two new charter schools set to open in the coming years that figure is set to grow.

At play in Tuesday’s hearing is whether Section 206 of the state Constitution shields school districts from having to share their property taxes with other school systems.

Previous rulings from the high court have been favorable to the SPLC’s interpretation, but Chancery Court DeWayne Thomas wrote last year that facts of the case differ from previous precedents.

A sticking point for Thomas was the location of the charter schools.

Charter schools, though independent from JPS oversight, operate within the district’s attendance zones. In his ruling, Thomas said that means children living in the district are the ones benefiting from the local property taxes.

Less than 1-percent of the state’s students are enrolled in charters, but the nontraditional schools have sparked bitter arguments among education advocates.

In a state where schools are routinely underfunded, charter opponents argue the independent schools are a cash drain.

Supporters have countered that the schools are one of the only viable options for children enrolled in under-resourced schools.

This story will be updated.

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