September 13, 2023

Willkie recently filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Public Funds Public Schools (a partnership between two non-profit civil rights organizations, Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center), the Mississippi Association of Educators, and Pastors for Children, in Parents for Public Schools v. Mississippi Department of Finance & Administration. The lawsuit challenges two Mississippi laws that diverted federal COVID relief funds to private schools. Grants of up to $100,000 from the $10 million appropriated to the program would be available only for projects at private schools, despite the fact that public schools across the state are plagued by both deteriorating infrastructure and inadequate state funding.

The brief argues that the state’s plans to divert public funds are unconstitutional, and that longstanding protection of public education funding in Mississippi is crucial to ensuring that all Mississippi children have access to a quality public education. 

A Mississippi trial court ruled last year that the private school grants violate Article VII, Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution, which prohibits public funding of private schools, and halted the program. The case is now on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The amicus brief provides the Mississippi Supreme Court with crucial background on (i) the history of Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution, which prohibits the diversion of public funds to private schools, (ii) the enforcement of similar constitutional provisions in other states, and (iii) the likely negative impact that upholding the private school grant program would have on Mississippi’s public schools and students.

The plaintiff organization in the lawsuit, Parents for Public Schools, is represented by the Democracy Forward Foundation, the ACLU of Mississippi, and the Mississippi Center for Justice. Public Funds Public Schools and the other organizations that signed on to the amicus brief were represented pro bono by Willkie. 

The Willkie team was led by partner Jordan Wall and associates Romane Paul, Chetan Tripathy, and William Weber. 

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