Mississippi

Mississippi

Although Mississippi has a Blaine Amendment, it has historically been interpreted to permit public benefits, like textbooks, to students who attend private school. While the state has enacted several private educational choice programs for special needs students (programs that have never been challenged in court), it has never passed any other type of educational choice program. With Espinoza now clearly preventing state Blaine Amendments from being used to discriminate based on religion in the context of an educational choice program, Mississippi policymakers may now pursue broader scholarship programs with full confidence that such programs comport with the state’s constitution.

Constitutional Provisions
Blaine Amendment
“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.” Mississippi Const. Art. VIII, § 208.

Other Relevant Provision
“No law granting a donation or gratuity in favor of any person or object shall be enacted except by the concurrence of two-thirds of the members elect of each branch of the Legislature, nor by any vote for a sectarian purpose or use.” Mississippi Const. Art. IV, § 66.

Relevant Case Law
Chance v. Mississippi State Textbook Rating & Purchasing Board, 200 So. 706, 713 (Miss. 1941)
The Mississippi Supreme Court held that loaning public textbooks to private school pupils does not violate Mississippi’s Blaine Amendment because “[t]he books belong to, and are controlled by, the state; they are merely loaned to the individual pupil therein designated .…” The Court further held that any aid to religious schools is incidental and, were the state to deny use of those books based on the student’s choice of a religious school, it might well violate other parts of the Mississippi Constitution.

Otken v. Lamkin, 56 Miss. 758 (Miss. 1879)
The Mississippi Supreme Court held that a statute allotting part of the common school fund to students attending private schools violated the express terms of Mississippi’s Blaine Amendment.

Existing Private School Choice Programs
Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for Students with Dyslexia
Mississippi Code Annotated Sections 37-173-1 to -29

Nate Rogers Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
Mississippi Code Annotated Sections 37-175-1 to -29

Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs
Mississippi Code Annotated Sections 37-181-1 to -21

What You've Heard About Blaine Amendments

Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Their original purpose was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools while preserving funding for America’s nascent “common” schools, which were predominantly Protestant and often inhospitable to Catholics. For decades, opponents of educational choice have employed Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons to impede and invalidate educational choice programs. However, thanks to a decades-long legal strategy tenaciously pursued by IJ, these state constitutional obstacles to educational freedom are now largely a dead letter.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, that the federal Constitution allows states to empower parents to choose religious and nonreligious schools alike when participating in educational choice programs so long as the state remains religiously neutral and parents exercise true private choice. But Zelman left open the question of whether the constitution would permit a state to exclude religious options from an educational choice program. On June 30, 2020, in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court answered that open question and held that the federal Constitution forbids states from excluding religious schools as options for families participating in educational choice programs, including through Blaine Amendments.

The federal Constitution, wrote Chief Justice Roberts for the Espinoza majority, “condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them. They are members of the community too, and their exclusion from [Montana’s] scholarship program here is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.” The Supreme Court’s holding was clear and unambiguous—and it applies to every state: While a “State need not subsidize private education[,] . . . once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

As a result of Espinoza, nearly every state is free to enact programs that will empower parents to choose the educational environment that is best for their own children. Of course, each state has a unique history, context, and constitutional provisions. That is why IJ has produced this 50-state guide. The guide analyzes each state’s constitution in light of Espinoza and explains how the ruling impacts policymakers’ ability to enact educational choice programs.

What You Need to Know After Espinoza

Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Their original purpose was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools while preserving funding for America’s nascent “common” schools, which were predominantly Protestant and often inhospitable to Catholics. For decades, opponents of educational choice have employed Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons to impede and invalidate educational choice programs. However, thanks to a decades-long legal strategy tenaciously pursued by IJ, these state constitutional obstacles to educational freedom are now largely a dead letter.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, that the federal Constitution allows states to empower parents to choose religious and nonreligious schools alike when participating in educational choice programs so long as the state remains religiously neutral and parents exercise true private choice. But Zelman left open the question of whether the constitution would permit a state to exclude religious options from an educational choice program. On June 30, 2020, in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court answered that open question and held that the federal Constitution forbids states from excluding religious schools as options for families participating in educational choice programs, including through Blaine Amendments.

The federal Constitution, wrote Chief Justice Roberts for the Espinoza majority, “condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them. They are members of the community too, and their exclusion from [Montana’s] scholarship program here is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.” The Supreme Court’s holding was clear and unambiguous—and it applies to every state: While a “State need not subsidize private education[,] . . . once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

As a result of Espinoza, nearly every state is free to enact programs that will empower parents to choose the educational environment that is best for their own children. Of course, each state has a unique history, context, and constitutional provisions. That is why IJ has produced this 50-state guide. The guide analyzes each state’s constitution in light of Espinoza and explains how the ruling impacts policymakers’ ability to enact educational choice programs.

Select Your State

Program Status
All Educational Choice Programs
Only Tax Credit and ESA Programs
Educational Choice Programs Unavailable

For More Information

Read Our Model Education Legislation


Contact IJ's Educational Choice Team

In The News