Subsidies to private schools hurt public education


JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A Mississippi mother testified Tuesday that her child’s public school is being harmed by the state pouring $10 million of federal pandemic relief money into grants. infrastructure for private schools.

Tanya Marsaw of Crystal Springs is a member of Parents For Public Schools. The nonprofit group is suing the state for trying to block the program that Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law earlier this year.

The lawsuit cites Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution, which prohibits the use of public funds for any school that is not “a free school.”

In a hearing before Hinds County Chancery Judge Crystal Wise Martin, Marsaw said she was paying taxes.

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“It’s part of my money, and it shouldn’t be going to private schools,” Marsaw said.

Reeves signed two bills in April. One created a grant program to help private schools pay for water, broadband and other infrastructure projects. The other has allocated the $10 million in federal funds for the program, beginning July 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward filed the suit June 15 on behalf of Parents for Public Schools, an advocacy group founded more than 30 years ago.

The program awards grants of up to $100,000 to any school in the state that is a member of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools and accredited by a state, regional or national organization. Program parameters exclude public schools from applying for infrastructure grants.

In arguments filed Aug. 4, state attorneys said federal funds “were never earmarked for public schools in the first place,” so public schools “have exactly nothing to lose.” as a result of the grant program.

Lawyers for both sides were due to present their closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon. Judge Martin did not indicate how quickly she could rule on the case.

During this year’s legislative session, Mississippi’s Republican-controlled House and Senate planned to spend most of the $1.8 billion the state receives from the federal government for pandemic relief.

Lawmakers also created a program this year to provide interest-free loans to public schools to improve buildings and other facilities, with money coming from the state. These loans must be repaid within 10 years. Grants to private schools do not need to be repaid.

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