Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government has set aside relief funding for both public and independent schools to help navigate the resulting challenges. Unfortunately, opponents to non-public schools have repeatedly tried to prevent these schools from receiving one-time, emergency relief grants.
States were tasked with handling the logistics of distributing the federal funds to public and independent schools. In Mississippi, the state legislature instructed the state to allocate the $10 million to independent schools such as those in the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS). The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools represents 90 percent of non-public schools in Mississippi. Its member schools and 6,500 teachers worked throughout the COVID-19 crisis to provide quality, in-person, college preparatory education. Like public schools, MAIS schools serve the children of Mississippi and federal taxpayers and face infrastructure and modernization needs brought on by the pandemic crisis.
Parents for Public Schools, Inc. filed a lawsuit in June 2022 to block these grants. The group, represented by the ACLU, is relying on the notorious post-Civil War “Blaine Amendment” in the Mississippi state constitution to stop the program. The provision was designed a century ago to discriminate against African Americans and Catholics by withholding education funding for independent schools in the state, a legacy that continues to this day.
Now, MAIS, representing 125 schools and 45,000 students in Mississippi, is urging a state judge to allow federal COVID-19 relief funds to reach the independent schools they were meant for. They argue that opponents of the program are cynically using a century-old provision of the state constitution that was motivated by racial and religious prejudice to stop federal support for independent schools.
The legal action today seeks to end this discrimination against non-public schools and students. The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools is represented by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center, a national nonprofit, Supreme Court-winning law firm committed to protecting educational opportunity for all. Attorneys have asked the court to stop Parents for Public Schools, Inc. from using the Blaine Amendment to block COVID-19 funds from going to non-public schools.