/Mississippi’s Constitution through the years provides evidence state never intended a uniform school system

Mississippi’s Constitution through the years provides evidence state never intended a uniform school system

The Southern Poverty Law Center, along with others, can still rely on the words in the Mississippi Constitution that have been used over the years to support their case. You can see the various versions of Mississippi’s Constitution as a roadmap to the state’s intention not to provide a uniform education. The Constitution’s education provisions over the years show that Mississippi leadership did not intend to provide an equal or uniform education. According to the lawsuit, the unjust educational opportunities that have marred much of Mississippi’s history are still present. The lawsuit centers on a federal law that mandated Mississippi’s admission to the Union after it had been re-admitted in 1870 following the Civil War. The law forbade the state to take action to “deprive any citizen or class of citizen…the rights and privileges granted by the 1868 Mississippi Constitution.” The state’s 1868 education provision promised a strong and uniform commitment to public education. “A republican form government’s stability depends primarily upon the intelligence and virtues of the people,” the 1868 Constitution stated that “the Legislature shall encourage, by any suitable means, the promotion intellectual, scientifical, moral, and agricultural improvement by establishing a uniform school system, by taxation or other means for all children between five and twenty-one.” This section mandated separate schools for “children from the white and colored races” but it was not deleted from the Constitution until 1977. There were several amendments that were passed in the 1930s, and infamously in 1960. These amendments continued to weaken the Constitution’s education commitment. Given the threat of forced integration by the federal government, lawmakers passed a resolution to declare that the Legislature “may in its discretion provide for the maintenance or establishment of free public schools [for all children aged between six and 21 years] by taxation or otherwise and with such grades that the Legislature may prescribe.” This language was approved in 1960 by voters. It basically stated that the Legislature could defund public schools and not desegregate them. Only three counties voted against the provision, Tishomingo in north Mississippi and Jackson on Gulf Coast. The state is to be commended for removing the language that gave the Legislature the right to decide whether public schools should be established in 1987. However, the provision in the Constitution declaring that the state is committed to public education is less than the 1868 Constitution. Every state has its own provision that outlines its commitment to education. The Mississippi’s education commitment is generally considered one of the weaker. The Legislature has broad discretion when deciding the “conditions or limitations” for public schools. To a certain degree, that is why the Legislature can snub the Mississippi Adequate Education program, which provides the state’s share for basic operations of local school districts. If fully funded, it is intended to alleviate some educational inequalities in the state. In 2015, a group representing education supporters collected the signatures necessary to place Initiative 42 on to the ballot to reinforce their commitment to public education. It shouldn’t surprise that the entire state political power voted against Initiative 42 and it was defeated by a narrow margin. It shouldn’t have been surprising that there was opposition. This is the state’s history. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that the lawsuit alleging the state violated federal law by changing its constitution commitment to public education can proceed. The lawsuit’s purpose is not to recover funds that education has lost due to inequities in the past, but to increase that commitment going forward. This was also the goal of Initiative 42 supporters. The current lawsuit would not have been filed if Initiative 42 had passed.