- Associated Press - Monday, July 18, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An attorney for Southern Poverty Law Center says the group is not trying to close charter schools in Mississippi, but is only trying to have the schools’ funding formula declared unconstitutional.

Jody Owens told The Associated Press on Monday that SPLC is not suggesting a new funding formula. However, he said that if the lawsuit succeeds, lawmakers could come up with a way to pay for charters without violating the state constitution. Although Owens is not endorsing any ideas, he said as an example that legislators could approve a lottery and designate the revenue to pay for charter schools.

In its lawsuit filed last week, SPLC argues that charters violate the state constitution by making school districts share property tax collections with schools they don’t supervise or control.

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

Mississippi’s only two charter schools are in Jackson, and a third one is set to open in the city this year.

Supporters, including Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, say charter 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 last week, Bryant said it was a frivolous attempt by “Democrats and their allies” to usurp decisions made by the Republican-majority Legislature.

Groups that have pushed for charter schools say the lawsuit could close the facilities.

“If successful, this lawsuit by SPLC would snatch away the opportunity to attend a charter school and send these students back to the Jackson public schools from which they fled,” Grant Callen of Empower Mississippi said last week.


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

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