Public Schools

Will Supreme Court rely on literal reading when deciding legality of public funds to private schools?


Will Supreme Court rely on literal reading when deciding legality of public funds to private schools?

The will most likely have an opportunity to rule on whether the state Constitution prevents the appropriation of public funds to private schools or explain why the Constitution does not mean what it says.

In recent years the nine members of the Mississippi’s highest court have sometimes adhered to the plain-reading-of-the-law principle in their decisions, while at other notable times they have not.

It has just depended on the issue and perhaps the mood of the court.

Plain meaning in legal parlance, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined “the language is unambiguous and clear on its face,” and “the meaning of the statute or contract must be determined from the language of the statute or contract and not from extrinsic evidence.”

Or, according to the Congressional Research Service, it is defined as: “The starting point in construing a statute is the language of the statute itself. The Supreme Court often recites the ‘plain meaning rule,’ that, if the language of the statute is plain and unambiguous, it must be applied according to its terms.”

On Oct. 13, Chancellor Crystal Wise Martin ruled, based on the plain reading, that legislation passed earlier this year providing government funds to private schools was unconstitutional. The state Legislature provided $10 million in federal relief funds to private schools. It was added to legislation late in the session. Gov. Tate Reeves, long a private school proponent, signed off on the proposal.

Parents for filed a saying the appropriation was not valid based on that aforementioned plain reading of the Mississippi Constitution.

Martin sided with Parents for Public Schools in the case, but her ruling most likely will be appealed. That appeal means the Supreme Court will again have the chance to decide whether the text of a law, a constitutional provision in the case, should be adhered to or ignored.

In 2017, in a unanimous decision, the justices ruled that just because a law said “effective with fiscal year 2007, the Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program” did not really mean the Legislature had to actually fully fund the program that provides the state’s share of the basics for the operation of the local school districts.

On the other hand, the justices did adhere to a law that said they “shall” receive a pay raise if recommended by the state Personnel Board. A little noticed section of a 2012 bill passed by the Legislature essentially gives the judiciary the authority to award itself a pay raise sans action of the Legislature. This judicial pay process seems in conflict with the fact the Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to appropriate funds. Plus, pay raises for elected officials normally are awarded based on the action of the Legislature not the judiciary.

Or to put it another way, when a law says local schools “shall” be fully funded, the plain reading is ignored by the Supreme Court. But when the law says the judiciary “shall” award itself a pay raise, the plain reading is followed.

The plain reading also was ignored in 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s ballot initiative process was invalid. The court ruled unconstitutional the language approved overwhelmingly by the Mississippi electorate in the early 1990s that requires a mandated number of signatures to be gathered equally from five congressional districts to place an initiative proposal on the ballot.

The court found that because the state no longer has five congressional districts, the initiative process was unconstitutional. The court made that ruling without taking into account that the members of the Mississippi Community College Board, as well as other boards in the state, also are selected from the same five now defunct congressional districts. Perhaps the state Community College Board also is unconstitutional.

Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution reads, “No religious or other sect or sects shall ever control any part of the school or other educational funds of this state; nor shall any funds be appropriated toward the support of any sectarian school, or to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.” 

Hinds County Chancellor Martin said that language is clear. It says what it says — no public appropriation to a school “not conducted as a free public school.”

It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court will adhere to that plain language or find a way to uphold language supported by the leadership of the Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Tate Reeves.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Some leaders ignore health care woes at Hobnob Mississippi


State’s health care woes ignored by some, but not all at annual Hobnob

“Only positive Mississippi spoken here,” a phrase coined by former Gov. Kirk Fordice, was the theme for the most part of the politicians at the annual Hobnob event sponsored by the state’s Economic Council.

But two politicians – Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney – devoted much of their speech at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob to the state’s troubled system and the financial difficulties that many of the state’s hospitals are facing.

“Would you locate (a business) in a state that you don’t have health care?” Chaney asked of the crowd of about 1,000 primarily business leaders gathered at the Mississippi Coliseum to hear from the state’s political leadership. “I don’t think you would.”

Hosemann said the Senate would be looking at health care issues during the upcoming session. He also said the legislative leadership should not be scared away from efforts to improve health care by “that X word.”

Hosemann was presumably referring to expansion where, through primarily federal funds, the state could provide health care for about 200,000 poor Mississippians, mostly people who work in jobs that do not offer health insurance. Hospitals have argued that expanding Medicaid like 38 other states have done would help them financially.

At the very least, the lieutenant governor said the state should extend Medicaid coverage for mothers from 60 days after giving birth to one year.

“How can we not be pro-life and pro-child at the same time?” asked Hosemann. “That does not make sense to me.”

While not definitively endorsing Medicaid expansion, Hosemann has said the state should look for the most efficient and inexpensive way to improve health care access in the state. Many argue that expanding Medicaid with the federal government paying most of the costs would be the best way to do that.

Chaney told reporters after the speech he supported Medicaid expansion and that he believes Hosemann does, too. But passing Medicaid expansion will be difficult with both Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn in opposition.

Reeves kept his speech positive, not mentioning health care at all.

But after the speech, he reiterated to reporters his opposition to Medicaid expansion.

“I remain opposed to expanding Obamacare in Mississippi …” Reeves said. “No doubt we’ve seen certain health care institutions in our state and across the country struggling, due to leadership decisions that were made in those specific instances. The pandemic certainly didn’t make it any easier.”

Reeves said a solution to Mississippi’s dire health care issues is doing away with the state’s certificate of need (CON) requirements. CON laws regulate approval of major projects or expansions for health care facilities, aiming to control health care costs by reducing duplicative services and restricting where new facilities can be built and operated. Mississippi and 34 other states have varying CON laws.

Reeves said this thwarts competition, and “competition tends to drive down costs.”

“For instance, the doesn’t have to adhere to CON rules, but everyone else does,” Reeves said. “That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Opponents of removing the CON process say they fear it would result in even fewer hospitals and other health care facilities in poor and underpopulated areas.

On other topics, Reeves said Mississippi is in historically great financial shape and vowed to continue to push to eliminate the state’s personal income tax.

“You have my word that as long as I’m governor I will never stop fighting to fully eliminate the income tax in Mississippi,” Reeves said. He said this will make the state more competitive for economic development with Texas, Florida and Tennessee – states that have no personal income tax.

“Mississippi in virtually every category is climbing the national ladder,” Reeves said. He said the state has seen a record $3.5 billion in capital investment so far this year with “more capital investment in 2022 than we saw in the five years previous to me becoming governor.” He said the state has made great gains in K-12 education, including increasing the graduation rate from 72% to 88.5% during his time in office, now above the national average of 86.5%.

Reeves vowed to push for “good jobs with above-average wages,” and quoted from his first state-of-the-state address: “At the end of my time as governor, we will measure our success in the wages of our workers.”

According to a recent U.S. Census report, Mississippi has the nation’s lowest median household income at $46,511, to $67,521 nationally. Mississippi also has the highest poverty rate, with 18.8% of people living at or below the poverty level.

Chaney spent much of his speech criticizing both the University of Mississippi Medical Center and for their inability to settle their contract dispute, which is impacting tens of thousands of Mississippians. People insured through Blue Cross have been out of network with UMMC since April 1.

“Both parties in this dispute are wrong,” Chaney said. “UMMC is asking for too much, and Blue Cross can give more.”

Chaney later told reporters that he believes the dispute could be settled, though, in the coming days.

Chaney said UMMC is “using (patients) as pawns for a money grab … On the other side Blue Cross is not right, either.”

The Republican insurance commissioner also told the crowd that UMMC has written a letter to a Medicaid managed care company demanding a higher reimbursement rate. If UMMC is not included in the network for the managed care company, this could impact health care for many of the Mississippians covered through Medicaid.

There are three companies – Magnolia, United and Molina – that have managed care contracts with the Mississippi Division of Medicaid. Under the contracts, the companies provide health care services for the Medicaid patients at a set rate paid to them by the state. Under that process, the companies reimburse the health care providers for the services provided to Medicaid recipients.

In response to Chaney’s comments, Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for Clinical Affairs told Mississippi Today: “In the course of normal business operations, all health care institutions enter discussions with payor partners about new or current contracts, sometimes several months before the end of a current agreement. These routine engagements are necessary to ensure contracts meet the needs of our patients who are their health plan members.

He added, “Currently, we are in normal contract-related discussions with Magnolia Health Plan on the agreement that covers UMMC care provided to their managed Medicaid health plan members. Our intent is that these standardized discussions will soon yield a new agreement and we will continue our strong partnership with Magnolia and health care relationship with their members.”

Chaney also predicted that efforts to negotiate a lease agreement between the Greenwood LeFlore Hospital and UMMC would be unsuccessful and that the financially troubled hospital would close, negatively impacting health care throughout the Delta.

Chaney said the state’s health care issues must be solved if the state is to prosper.

Also speaking were Auditor Shad White, Secretary of State Michael Watson, Lynn Fitch, House Speaker Philip Gunn, Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson and Treasurer David McRae.

Gipson, wearing his cowboy hat, sang a portion of the song “A Country Boy Can Survive” before praising the work of Mississippi farmers.

Watson, who has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate at some point – perhaps even against Reeves in the 2023 Republican primary – said, of next year’s election, “We need leaders who care more about Mississippi than their careers. I hope you help me elect those folks.”

While not being specific, Watson referenced some “tough times” possibly ahead for the state in terms of health care.

White said that as auditor, he gets to “look under the hood of Mississippi government,” and see what works and what doesn’t. He said the state’s workforce is the biggest issue he sees, and he offered four ideas to improve it.

“First, an earned income tax credit,” White said. “If you go from unemployed to employed, you get a tax cut … 29 other states have this … It’s one of the best things to get people off the couch and off the sidelines and working … There are some folks who want to just hand a bunch of money to poor people. That is not going to juice our .”

White said the state should use its federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money – the source of a major fraud and misspending case White’s office uncovered – to fund the tax credits, as 20 other states do.

“Second, we’ve got to address brain drain,” White said. “From 2015-2019 we spent $1.5 to $2 billion on higher education, and we only kept 50% of the graduates in Mississippi.”

White said his office has a fellowship program that helps cover tuition for future auditors, provided they stay with his office for two years. He said this could be replicated for other professions statewide.

“Third, fatherlessness,” White said. He said too many children are growing up in broken homes and are not prepared to succeed when they become adults. He said, “There are all sorts of social maladies from not having engaged fathers in the home.” White said the Junior ROTC program in Jackson is an example of a program that helps with this issue – with retired military people mentoring youth. He said the program at JPS has a “100% graduation rate.”

Fourth, White said, “is the city of Jackson.”

“Jackson is our number-one talent magnet in this state,” White said, “with 30% of our graduates coming to work in .”

He said, “Jackson’s magnet is going to turn off unless we learn how to collect the garbage, keep the water clean and not be the per-capita homicide leader in the country.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson Public Schools receives ‘C’ rating


Jackson schools, on verge of state takeover just 5 years ago, earns ‘C’ rating

The Jackson Public School District received a “C” rating in the new accountability grades released last week, marking the first time it is not considered low-performing since 2014.

At the school board meeting last week, principals from dozens of Jackson schools were recognized for their efforts in improving grades or receiving top marks. 

“I am just completely full,” said JPS board member Cynthia Thompson. “As a parent of Jackson and six of my babies graduating, and fighting through the madness that our children were not. They are, always have been, and I saw it from the beginning, and I just thank God that now the world can see it and celebrate with us.” 

The district, the second largest in Mississippi, narrowly avoided state takeover in 2017 after several years of being rated an “F.” The state Department of Education had recommended that then-Gov. Phil Bryant declare a state of emergency in the district, but Bryant declined, instead opting to form a new oversight commission. 

Across the state, schools have not received new grades since 2019 due to pandemic disruptions. Assessments did not occur in the spring of 2020, and while tests were administered in 2021, no accountability grades were given for student performance. 

Proficiency scores for reading and math returned to pre-pandemic levels in Jackson’s school district. History proficiency scores significantly surpassed previous scores, mirroring a statewide trend. Science proficiency scores conversely dipped below 2019 levels, also following statewide trends. 

The most significant improvements were seen in growth scores, which measure improvements in student performance year-over-year. The district also saw a 10 percentage point increase in the graduation rate. 

Every high school in JPS saw improvements in both their proficiency and growth scores, while many elementary schools only saw improvements in their growth scores. 

The district also celebrated Barack Obama Magnet Elementary School being ranked the #1 elementary school in the state.

“Have we arrived?” asked Errick Greene, superintendent of the Jackson Public School District, during a press conference. “Absolutely not. We’re not even close. As proud as we are of what we’ve achieved, we’re not even close to where we will be as we continue our trek toward excellence. But our commitment to excellence is definitely paying off.”  

Multiple district officials spoke at the board meeting about the goal to become a B-rated district next year, discussing plans to make it a reality. 

Greene, in an interview with Mississippi Today, acknowledged that this new accountability rating is fueled, in part, by improved growth scores, which may be higher than normal as students rebound out of pandemic learning declines. He pointed out that the district anticipated this and that they already have a roadmap to continue improving student achievement. 

When discussing how the district reached this point and their strategies moving forward, Greene pointed to new K-8 curriculum, benchmark assessments, ensuring teachers cover every component of a standard to help students reach proficiency, making sure that concepts build on one another, and emphasizing coaching and feedback for teachers and leaders at all levels.

“We hadn’t achieved this previously, so I desperately want to use this level of improvement as proof positive for the community, but also for our team, this is not beyond us,” Greene said. “We’re showing and proving to ourselves and to others that this can be accomplished, so I want to use this time and increased performance as the launching pad for the next.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

JPS football teams to play Saturday at Pearl


Due to water crisis, JPS football teams to play Saturday at Pearl

Jackson high school football teams Callaway, Murrah, Provine and Jim Hill will renew old rivalries Saturday at a new venue: Pearl High School, across the river in Rankin County.

The City of Jackson water crisis has altered the lives of its citizenry – and also the way Jackson Public Schools football teams play the sport. Callaway and Murrah were originally scheduled to play at Mississippi Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. Instead, they will play at the same time at Ray Rogers Stadium in Pearl. Provine and Jim Hill will follow in the second half of the doubleheader at 3 p.m.

The moves were forced because of the water crisis, which has caused any number of issues, including that the toilets and urinals won’t flush at The Vet. There isn’t enough water pressure.

The agreement to play at Pearl was finalized early Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours before Murrah and Callaway will kick off. 

Neverthless, Thursday’s was welcome. Murrah coach Marcus Gibson probably spoke for all four coaches when he said, “We want to play and we need to play.”

Murrah High School head football coach Marcus Gibson, during practice Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022 in Jackson.

JPS football has experienced tough sledding in recent years. The 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic, which continued to alter schedules in 2021. The water crisis has just added additional obstacles.

“Our kids have been through so much in the last three years that this delay was not even something they were concerned about,” Gibson said. “They have learned throughout the pandemic to move forward regardless, to not worry about the uncontrollable and to control what they can. They are some of the most resilient people I have ever been around.”

Gibson, who teaches five oral communications classes when he’s not coaching football, is resilient as well. He has to be. Besides COVID and the water crisis, he has the normal football problems every coach faces, including losing his starting quarterback to a foot injury in the Mustangs’ opening game, a 49-45 defeat at the hands of Cleveland Central last week.

Murrah High School football players take a break from practice to

“We played well,” Gibson said. “It was a game we could have won and probably should have won.”

The Mustangs suffered in that game with major cramping issues.

“Our kids are in shape, but even so they were cramping as early as the second quarter,” Gibson said. 

It wasn’t because of water issues, Gibson said. Murrah parents and local businesses have donated bottled water – and ice – to the team. The Mustangs go through the cases of bottled water rapidly.

“The deal is, because of COVID, they can’t share,” Gibson said. “Once they open the bottle, it’s theirs to finish. A lot of our players bring ice and water from home in their own thermos bottles.”

JPS schools limit football practices to 90 minutes until the weather cools – and 30 minutes of that must be spent indoors.

“It’s hard to get the conditioning we need, so we have to make really good use of the time,” Gibson said.

One of the biggest issues for the football coaches was presented when the schools went to virtual learning because of the water crisis.

“Normally, you have the players at school and they just come on down to the field house for practice when the bell rings,” Gibson said. “Now they are coming from home. Not many of our players have their own cars so they have to catch rides. Some of them are at home babysitting younger siblings, so they can’t leave until a parent gets home. There’s lots of problems you don’t think about until they happen.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Water crisis Jackson, MS, closings and postponements, schools, events, athletics

124 views – Mississippi – 2022-08-31 21:56:52

This coverage of the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, is available to all readers. Sign up for a subscription to support local journalism.

Below is a list of closings and postponements related to Jackson’s ongoing water crisis. Check back for more updates. And get the latest updates by downloading our mobile app.

Jackson Public Schools will remain virtual through Monday

Jackson announced Wednesday night that all schools will continue virtual learning through the end of this week and at least until Monday as the city of Jackson is experiencing a water system failure.


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How Jackson water crisis is impacting high school, college sports

155 views – Mississippi – 2022-08-30 17:06:39

Jackson is moving forward with the majority of its athletics schedule amid a state of emergency as a result of the city’s water crisis.

JPS football games and other outdoor competitions will commence as scheduled, JPS Athletics Executive Director Daryl Jones told the Clarion Ledger on Tuesday, but volleyball matches, which are held indoors, will only be played at sites that haven’t been impacted. Volleyball games between JPS teams will be rescheduled later in the season, Jones said.

The schedule adjustments come after Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency Monday…

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Jackson Public Schools goes virtual, still offers breakfast and lunch


JPS schools go virtual due to water crisis, but still offering breakfast and lunch

All Jackson Public School District students shifted to remote learning on Tuesday due to Jackson’s water crisis.

State officials announced Monday night that the water system for the city of Jackson was failing, with thousands of Jackson residents already having little or no water pressure and officials cannot say when adequate, reliable service will be restored.

The city water system has been plagued with problems for years, including tens of thousands of residents losing water for multiple weeks during a 2021 winter storm.

Bagged breakfast and lunch are being served at all JPS schools except for Forest Hill High School, which is closed for meals due to inadequate water pressure. Sherwin Johnson, JPS communications director, said that schools are using city water and boiling it to prepare meals. 

Breakfast is served from 7-9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The district said in a press release that they are monitoring conditions on a day-by-day basis for when schools may be able to return to in-person learning. JPS announced Tuesday evening that they will continue remote instruction on Wednesday, and also added that there are several schools whose air conditioning system depends on water to run effectively.

“We’re having to shift very quickly to virtual learning and while some students are able to make that shift pretty quickly, we have quite a few students, our most vulnerable students, who are not able to make that shift effectively,” said George Stewart, president of the Jackson Association of Educators. “We all worry about our students when they are out virtual, we worry about their health and their safety. It’s not the best situation right now and educators are very concerned right now.”

Johnson also said that students were receiving a full instructional day virtually, but employees at Callaway High School said some of the district was only in operation for 80% of a traditional school day. 

Neighboring school districts said they have not experienced any water pressure issues, but School District Superintendent Delesicia Martin said the district was providing bottled water to students and staff at three schools connected to the Jackson water system.

  • Barack H Obama Elementary School: 750 N Congress St, Jackson, MS 39202
  • Bailey Middle APAC School: 1900 N State St, Jackson, MS 39202
  • Baker Elementary School: 300 E Santa Clair St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Bates Elementary School: 3180 McDowell Rd Ext, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Blackburn Middle School: 1311 W Pearl St, Jackson, MS 39203
  • Boyd Elementary School: 4531 Broadmeadow St, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Brinkley Middle School: 3535 Albermarle Rd, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Callaway High School: 601 Beasley Rd, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Cardozo Middle School: 3180 McDowell Rd Ext, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Casey Elementary School: 2101 Lake Cir, Jackson, MS 39211
  • Chastain Middle School: 4650 Manhattan Rd, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Clausell Elementary School: 3330 Harley St, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Dawson Elementary School: 4215 Sunset Dr, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Galloway Elementary School: 186 Idlewild St, Jackson, MS 39203
  • Green Elementary School: 610 Forest Ave, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Ida B. Wells APAC School: 1120 Riverside Dr, Jackson, MS 39202
  • Jim Hill High School: 2185 Coach Fred Harris St, Jackson, MS 39204
  • John Hopkins Elementary School: 170 John Hopkins Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Isable Elementary School: 1716 Isable St, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Johnson Elementary School: 1339 Oak Park Dr, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Key Elementary School: 699 W McDowell Rd, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Kirksey Middle School: 5677 Highland Dr, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Lake Elementary School: 472 Mt Vernon Ave, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Lanier High School: 833 Maple St, Jackson, MS 39203
  • Lester Elementary School: 2350 Oakhurst Dr, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Marshall Elementary School: 2909 Oak Forest Dr, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Mc Leod Elementary School: 1616 Sandlewood Pl, Jackson, MS 39211
  • McWillie Elementary School: 4851 McWillie Cir, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Murrah High School: 1400 Murrah Dr, Jackson, MS 39202
  • North Jackson Elementary School: 650 James M Davis Dr, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Northwest Middle School: 7020 US-49 N, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Oak Forest Elementary School: 1831 Smallwood St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Pecan Park Elementary School: 415 Claiborne Ave, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Peeples Middle School: 2940 Belvedere Dr, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Powell Middle School: 3655 Livingston Rd, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Provine High School: 2400 Robinson St, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Raines Elementary School: 156 N Chapel Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Shirley Elementary School: 330 Judy St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Smith Elementary School: 3900 Parkway Ave, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Spann Elementary School: 1615 Brecon Dr, Jackson, MS 39211
  • Sykes Elementary School: 3555 Simpson St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Timberlawn Elementary School: 1980 N Siwell Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Van Winkle Elementary School: 1655 Whiting Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Walton Elementary School: 3200 Bailey Ave, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Whitten Middle School: 210 Daniel Lake Blvd, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Wilkins Elementary School: 1970 Castle Hill Dr, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Wingfield High School: 1985 Scanlon Dr, Jackson, MS 39204

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Here’s the latest you need to know

183 views – Mississippi – 2022-08-29 19:20:43

All Jackson will shift to virtual learning on Tuesday due to the citywide water crisis and remain virtual indefinitely, according to the Jackson Public Schools website.

Also, late Monday evening, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba declared a state of emergency in Jackson due to the failing water system in which residences and businesses are experiencing low water pressure and have been under a boil water notice for a month.

“Due to complications from the Pearl River , Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is declaring a water system emergency as water pressure issues at the O.B. Curtis…

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Lawyers argued that ARPA funds should not be given to private schools

93 views – Mississippi – 2022-08-23 16:12:16

A Chancery Judge is set to rule in Parents for v. Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration.

Why is Parents for Public Schools suing Mississippi?

The claims the Mississippi Legislature violated state law by appropriating $10 million to private schools.

After a Tuesday hearing, Hinds County Chancery Judge Crystal Wise Martin asked attorneys from both sides for proposed findings of facts to be turned in by Monday so that she may rule on a case in which federal funds could be given to private schools in Mississippi.


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Midtown Charter School fails to lease JPS building


JPS denies Midtown Charter School lease of unused building

Following a failed attempt to lease a building from the Jackson Public School District, Midtown Public Charter School will relocate out of the Midtown neighborhood to a building near the intersection of Northside Drive and I-55 for the upcoming school year.

The Charter School Authorizer Board approved the move on Tuesday.

Midtown Public, first opened in 2015, currently serves 240 students in grades 5-8, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Midtown Partners, the operators of the charter school, attempted to rent Rowan Middle School, which was closed in 2017. The building briefly housed an alternate GED program, but has been unoccupied for multiple years.

Charter schools are free that do not report to a school board, like traditional public schools do. Instead, they are governed by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. These schools are controversial among traditional public school supporters because they have more flexibility for teachers and administrators when it comes to student instruction, and are funded by local school districts based on enrollment.

This was the point of contention among JPS supporters and officials. This school year alone, JPS has paid $888,747.60 to the school. If the district allowed Midtown to lease one of its unused buildings, it could recoup funds with the rent and repairs the charter school was willing to make. But the reason Midtown proposed a move at all was to expand enrollment, meaning ultimately JPS would be paying the school more money in future school years.

JPS school board members raised a number of concerns with the proposed lease when it was presented at a board meeting on April 5, including the amount of the rent payments and the processes of maintenance repairs and possible reauthorization of the lease.

The charter school would have paid $78,000 a year in the lease and approximately $115,000 in proposed repairs. Some board members pushed for a higher lease amount, but state law prohibits public school districts from charging above the market value of the property.

There was also a discussion among board members about the broader merits of the charter school system, which Superintendent Errick Greene said should not be conflated with the issue of the lease at hand.

“Whether Midtown, the charter school, should exist or not, should operate in Jackson, Mississippi or not, that’s a worthy discussion and an issue that I’m sure is ripe for some larger movement and lobbying around the law that allows it to be,” Greene said. “We find ourselves in a situation where we have a number of buildings that are shuttered, with lots of ideas about how we might use those buildings, but we have an organization standing in front of us right now with dollars that we know they have because they come through us and go to them, and an opportunity to recoup some of those dollars.”

Board member Cynthia Thompson said she felt they didn’t need to take the first offer that presented itself and suggested recruiting proposals to use the space for another purpose. She also expressed frustration with the design of the charter school system more broadly.

“I understand the constraints that are given to us as a district to follow. But it’s hard to play ball when the other person doesn’t have to follow those rules,” she said.

At the following board meeting on April 19, nine people came to speak with two-thirds opposed to the rental of Rowan.

Ronica Smith, a parent of two Midtown Public students who came to speak in support of the lease, said that her children have done well and been excited about learning since attending.

“Midtown is a good school. If you give Midtown a chance to get Rowan, y’all are going to see, it’s going to blossom,” she said.

Other community members mentioned Midtown’s low test scores as a concern with issuing the lease, which was also previously the subject of state inquiry.

“We live in a state that has historically underfunded the education of Black children, and continues to do so while simultaneously increasing funding to entities such as Midtown Public Charter Schools, which has done a subpar job of educating Black children at best, scoring in the bottom ten percent of Mississippi schools,” said a man who spoke during the public comment section at the meeting.

JPS Board President Ed Sivak pointed out that when Rowan was closed, students in Midtown were instead sent to Brinkley Middle School, which does not score any better than Midtown Public.

The lease was presented again with amendments at the April 19 board meeting, which board member Robert Luckett moved to approve, citing the support of the residents of Midtown for the lease. But lacking support from any other board members, the proposal failed.

Kristi Hendrix, the executive director of Midtown Partners, could not be reached for comment but said in a letter to the Charter School Authorizer Board that the new facility they will be relocating to off of Northside Drive was previously used for education, making it an easy transition.

“We were very hopeful that a lease could be secured with the Jackson Public Schools for the usage of one of their two vacant buildings for the neighborhood,” Hendrix said in the letter. “Despite overwhelming support from the Midtown residents, the Jackson Public School Board expressed their desire to let the building sit vacant as opposed to allowing a charter school to use them.”

Kevin Parkinson, principal of Midtown Public, also could not be reached for comment.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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