The purpose of this report and study is to better understand the potential impact of the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan (MAEP), which has recently received full funding from the Mississippi State Legislature. It is also intended to help identify inadequacies in the education reform system and implications for further education reform efforts. The MAEP is the latest effort to improve education in Mississippi, which has only recently centered on desegregation, adequacy and equity. Yet, these efforts and their impact can only be fully understood in the context of race and class cleavages, which have hampered the development of an effective and impartial education system benefiting all Mississippians. Reform efforts have not eradicated education disparities based on race and class because they have not addressed sufficiently the structural relationship between racism and classism.
To understand the potential impact of the MAEP, it is critical to understand the context of education in Mississippi both historically and currently. Therefore, this report examines the long history of white opposition to education for African Americans, including the white power elites’ willingness to sacrifice educational opportunity for white Mississippians to maintain African American segregation and subordination. It also examines the economic context of education and its relationship to maintaining a low-wage labor pool. This is particularly important as it relates to the Mississippi Delta region. The Delta is becoming more African American. It, like the rest of the country, is also losing higher paying, goods producing jobs, while lower paying service sector jobs are on the rise.
The report examines existing research on the state of education in Mississippi, and examines 2000 data collected from the Mississippi Department of Education with a focus on teacher quality, financing and curriculum. The data, disaggregated by race and class, reveals important disparities. Specifically, it demonstrates that Mississippi schools are still highly identifiable by race. Majority African American schools are also concentrated poverty schools, suggesting that white students are less likely to live in concentrated poverty. The African American high poverty schools have disproportionate numbers of teachers without advanced degrees or with emergency certification, are less likely to offer Advanced Placement courses and have higher drop-out rates.
There is no statistically significant difference in per pupil spending or teacher salaries across the state. Nonetheless, money is an issue in improving educational outcomes because it impacts teacher quality. African American poor schools have higher administrative costs, which reduce the dollars available for the classroom. Poor and largely African American districts remain more reliant on federal funding than their white counterparts. It is clear that the skill level of teachers impacts student achievement. The lack of local revenue appears to affect the ability of predominantly African American districts to pay more for highly skilled teachers.
As the study shows, there are important racial disparities in the Mississippi educational system that are masked if one does not disaggregate a range of data by race and free lunch eligibility to see the relationship between financing and other variables. No conclusions could be drawn regarding budgetary decisions, the relationship with Title I spending, and an explanation of the higher administration costs in poor African American school districts.
Nonetheless, the study demonstrates, when viewed in the context of Mississippi’s history, that financing is an important issue. It does not appear that financing “equity,” if equity is defined as equal state spending without regard to race and class, will not sufficiently improve educational outcomes, particularly for poor African American students. Currently, African American poor schools actually receive slightly more education dollars, probably due to Title I expenditures. Having long suffered under funding and given the poverty levels of many students in these schools, they may require more resources than other schools to achieve equity in educational outcomes.
Furthermore, it is evident that the MAEP funding formula is flawed. It arbitrarily sets the standard for educational adequacy at that of a level III accredited school (accredited on a scale of I to V). A related problem with the formula is that it assumes that level I or level II accredited schools (poor performers) need only the funding of an existing level III school to become a level III school. This may well prove to be an incorrect assumption. Also, as a poorly performing state, level III may be too low an achievement goal for meaningful improvement of student achievement and may not eliminate racial disparities in outcomes.
Considerations for strategies to create a quality education for all students should consider the need for a paradigm shift in thinking on education and its relationship to the global economy. To compete in the new global economy, Mississippians must develop their technological fluency and have a sufficient educational base to reinvent themselves in a constantly changing, technology-driven economy. Educational quality and high student achievement must be seen as an imperative for the economic future of the state. It should be connected to an economic reform vision based on a high wage, high skilled work force that can fully participate in the global, information-driven market place. And it must dismantle the structures created to prevent African Americans from educational opportunities.