In its lawsuit that could cut off funding for public charter schools, the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the redirection of state and local property tax to charter schools “unconstitutional spending.”
But how much spending are we talking about? There are three charter schools in Mississippi and all operate in the Jackson Public Schools district, which was rated an F district in the latest district grades by the Mississippi Department of Education.
The lawsuit filed in Hinds County Chancery Court says that $1.85 million in state and local tax revenue redirected to charter schools by the JPS could’ve paid for 42 teacher salaries, 18 new school buses and two guidance counselors.
JPS enrollment, as shown above, has been largely declining since 2005. According to data from the Mississippi Department of Education, JPS enrollment is at a 12-year low this school year, with 26,948 students.
Despite the declining enrollment, the JPS has seen an uptick in its revenue since Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi Charter School Act in 2013. According to a brief filed in the case, JPS received more than $192 million combined in state and local tax revenue in 2013. In 2016, that figure is up to more than $204 million.
With declining enrollment and increasing revenue, per pupil spending has increased considerably since the first charter school opened in Jackson.
The higher revenues and lower enrollment numbers mirror trends statewide. In 2013, 493,000 students were enrolled in Mississippi public schools. Now, there are 482,000 enrolled. The Legislature appropriated more than $2.2 billion for K-12 education in 2013 and that number is now up to $2.5 billion.
The contribution made by JPS in tax revenues to the three charter schools is minuscule, with the figure estimated by the SPLC to be $4 million. Against a JPS budget of $208 million, that represents a 1.92 percent of total spending.
Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas set a pair of deadlines for the attorneys in the case after 90 minutes of oral arguments on April 3, with May 10 for proposed findings of fact and June 21 for any required rebuttals.