- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Four parents with children in charter schools are seeking to be heard in a lawsuit that could overturn the way Mississippi pays for the alternative form of public education.

The parents, who also either have or had children in Jackson Public Schools, are represented by an attorney for the conservative Mississippi Justice Institute. They said Wednesday that they are requesting a chancery judge’s permission to intervene in a lawsuit filed July 11 by the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of seven parents whose children attend JPS.

The SPLC suit argues that charters violate the state constitution by making school districts share property-tax collections with schools they don’t supervise or control.

All three of Mississippi’s charter schools are in Jackson and are operated by private, nonprofit groups. They receive tax money but are operated by a state Charter School Authorizer Board that is separate from local school districts and from the state Board of Education.

SPLC attorney Jody Owens said on July 18 that the center is not trying to eliminate all charter schools. He said if the lawsuit succeeds, lawmakers could come up with a way to pay for charters without violating the state constitution. Although Owens is not suggesting a different funding formula or endorsing any ideas, he said as an example that legislators could approve a lottery and designate the revenue to pay for charter schools.

Mike Hurst, attorney for the Mississippi Justice Institute, said Wednesday: “Despite what the Southern Poverty Law Center says, their lawsuit is about shutting down charter schools, shutting down parents’ choice for the best educational opportunities for their children, and shutting down how our elected officials choose to use taxpayer dollars to best maximize (the) free public educational system.”

Gladys Overton, one of the four parents seeking to intervene on behalf of charter schools, said a charter school in south Jackson has been a “life changer” for her daughter, who did well academically in a Jackson public school but was bullied there.

In the charter, “she can go to school and just simply focus on learning without worrying about bullies or unclear expectations,” Overton said during a news conference with Hurst outside the Department of Education headquarters.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and other charter school supporters say the schools allow for greater innovation in curriculum and teaching styles. Critics say charter schools drain money from other public schools. After the SPLC filed suit, Bryant said it was a frivolous attempt by “Democrats and their allies” to usurp decisions made by the Republican-majority Legislature.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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