In 1997, the Mississippi Legislature passed what was called the Mississippi Adequate Education Act. The legislation was supposedly designed to set-up the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), which in turn would provide each public school district with the necessary funds for the district to provide each child with an adequate education. Essentially, it would make each school one that would be rated at least C, according to the state’s assessment measures.
Since that time, as had been historically the case, most school districts, and the state as a whole, have ranked woefully low on required assessment measures. That could possibly be, and likely was, because the legislature has fully funded MAEP only twice in its 26-year history. It simply does whatever it pleases regarding public school funding. The state has been sued for that neglect, but the state courts have ruled that such funding is not constitutionally required. With that being the case, conservative leaders have fallen back into the mold of such past politicians as J.K. Vardaman, Theodore Bilbo, Walter Sillers, and Kirk Fordice. The pattern goes all the way back to the opponents of public schools who led the drafting of the 1890 Constitution of the state of Mississippi. Those leaders have not desired a thinking, highly educated population, but one that is docile and willing to, or feel they have to settle for, “wage slave” conditions. That is particularly the case when it comes to Black workers.
Since the racial desegregation of Mississippi’s public schools, white state leaders have encouraged the building of private academies and, more recently, the establishment of charter schools, which they insist on calling “public” charter schools. In both cases, these schools undermine the public schools, taking away students and funding. The individuals who suffer the most in the whole affair are low-income families and racial/ethnic minorities.
The neglect in funding the public schools has been and continues to negatively impact the state. A clear illustration of such can be seen in the work of a team of researchers from the Albert Shanker Institute, the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development, and Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. They performed an examination of the funding that public school districts in Mississippi receive. What they found was that, of the nearly 150 districts in the state, only eight of them were provided with sufficient funding to enable their students to score at the national average.
Those eight school districts include Alcorn County Public Schools, Jackson County Public Schools, Monroe County Public Schools, Ocean Springs Public Schools, Pass Christian Public Schools, Rankin County Public Schools, Pearl River County Public Schools, and Tishomingo County Public Schools. Those eight school districts are fortunate to have such tax bases, but the state as a whole should be ashamed and do better toward its public school students.
The study by the team of researchers looked at (1) the state and local per pupil expenditure for each district in fiscal year 2020, (2) the predicted amount needed to enable the district to reach the national average in terms of measured academic achievement, and (3) the funding sufficiency gap that each district experienced. The district-by-district results of their findings can be found under the School Finance Indicator Database.
Realizing that in the state of Mississippi – and much of the country as a whole – such matters operate on the basis of race, we decided to analyze the team’s data based upon racial classification of the student body and geographical/political characteristics of the districts, emphasizing that the state suffers but that districts with predominantly Black student populations suffer even more.
The first thing that caught our attention was that, of the eight school districts that were able to secure the funding needed to achieve the national average, all had majority white student populations. They range from Jackson County Public Schools, which has a 54% white student enrollment to Tishomingo County, which has a 94% white student enrollment. In between, there is Alcorn County, which is 92% white, Monroe County which is 90% white, Ocean Springs which is 74% white, Pass Christian which is 60% white, and Pearl River County which is 88% white. For whatever it is worth, these districts have also been generally rated high on the state’s assessment measures.
At the other end of the spectrum, of the bottom 30 school districts, all have majority Black student populations. They are mainly in the Mississippi Delta and historic Black enclaves. These districts are listed, in terms of their funding gaps, from the highest to the lowest rankings. Humphreys County Public Schools had the widest gap. It provided $11,046 per pupil, but needed $28,651. That left the district with a gap of $17,605. The best funded of the bottom 30 districts was East Jasper Public Schools, which provided $12,791 per pupil, but needed $25,141. That left a gap of $12,350. In between Humphreys County and East Jasper were Holly Springs, Clarksdale, Quitman County, Claiborne County, Noxubee County, Okolona, Jefferson County, North Panola, North Bolivar, West Bolivar, Holmes County, Coahoma County, Forest, Yazoo City, West Tallahatchie, Jefferson Davis County, Wilkinson County, Hollandale, South Pike, Philadelphia, Jackson, Newton, Hazlehurst, South Delta, Greenville, Canton, Sunflower County, and East Tallahatchie.
Several important things that can be kept in mind are that conditions continue to deteriorate because on top of the legislature failing to fully-fund MAEP, needed repairs, renovations, and expansion to facilities do not stop. Needs for equipment and material escalate. Salaries and benefits for teachers and other staff continue to rise. Secondly, the legislature generally has had the money to fully-fund MAEP. Instead, it has chosen to increase the state’s rainy-day fund, give tax cuts to the wealthy, including corporations, and find other ways to spend tax dollars.
The study referenced in this article provides information for those who are dedicated and concerned about the health of Mississippi’s public schools. It is reminiscent of a study conducted by the late Senator Henry Kirksey in 1963. In that study Kirksey showed the discrepancies between the funding for Black and white schools, district by district across the state. Much of the data that he had collected was later used to support the plaintiffs in the case of Alexander vs. Holmes County. Data included in the study above can possibly lead to similar positive changes.