Mississippi Supreme Court Rules on High Profile Case


Late last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued a ruling on a case that has captured the attention of lawmakers and media alike.  

The case involved $10 million in a legislative appropriation that was directed to the Independent Schools Infrastructure Grant Program, which was designed to provide financial relief to private schools for infrastructure improvements in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was funded by the state legislature using funds made available by the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  

In June 2022, a nonprofit organization, Parents for Public Schools, challenged the constitutionality of the program, specifically that the program violated article 8, section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined that Parents for Public Schools did not have standing to bring the lawsuit, vacating an earlier ruling by the Hinds County Chancery Court.  

While some have misconstrued the case as a challenge to the constitutionality of private education choice programs in the Magnolia State, such as ESAs or vouchers, the case was never about those programs at all. Rather, this case was specifically related to the direct appropriation of ARPA funds to private schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mississippi, in fact, has had 3 private education choice programs in existence for years, none of which have ever been challenged in the courts.  

We contend that private education choice policies are indeed constitutional in Mississippi, a fact that is not disputed in the ruling issued by the Supreme Court. David Hodges of the Institute for Justice and Aaron Rice of the Mississippi Justice Institute explained this position in an amicus brief submitted for this case: 

“First, the Mississippi Constitution permits the legislature to provide financial aid to students that they can then use for nonpublic goods and services, including tuition at nonpublic schools. Thus, even if Mississippi bars public funds from being appropriated directly to nonpublic schools, that bar does not encompass programs that provide aid to students who may use that aid to procure a nonpublic education.  

Second, this Court’s recognition that the beneficiaries of such programs are students is consistent with rulings of numerous other high courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.   

Third and finally, if this Court were to construe Section 208 to bar nonpublic students as a class from seeking or obtaining aid from the government, then it would run headfirst into the U.S. Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on parental rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.” 

Some have cited this pending litigation as a reason for not pursuing an expansion of private education choice policies in Mississippi. The Mississippi Supreme Court’s action last week appears to clear the way for further discussion of that issue, and we encourage lawmakers to consider empowering parents and students with education freedom, as more than 10 other states have done.