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Lawsuit accuses Mississippi of providing unequal education to African-American students

May 23, 2017
Southern Poverty Law Center wants a judge to rule that Mississippi's education system violates the state's constitution.

Mississippi has failed to provide equal education opportunities to African-American children and has repeatedly violated its legally binding obligation to operate a “uniform system of free public schools” for all children, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The law center contends in its lawsuit that on numerous occasions, Mississippi has taken actions that violated the education clause of the state Constitution, which the state ratified in 1869.

"The violations began in 1890, at the start of the Jim Crow era, when delegates to the state’s Constitutional Convention crafted new governing documents with the explicit intention of disenfranchising African Americans by withholding education," the SPLC argues. "Each subsequent change has further watered down the education clause. Today, because of this historical malfeasance, the state’s public schools are anything but 'uniform.'"

[Read the entire lawsuit]

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Miss., on behalf of four African-American mothers whose children attend kindergarten and first grade in the Jackson Public School District and the Yazoo City Municipal School District. Each of these districts has received an “F” rating by the Mississippi Department of Education.

“These children deserve the same strong start as any other students in their state and we are committed to seeing that they get it,” says Brad Elias, attorney for the women.

The schools attended by the plaintiffs’ children have student bodies that are overwhelmingly African-American, the SPLC says.

"They lack textbooks, literature, basic supplies, experienced teachers, sports and other extracurricular activities, tutoring programs, and even toilet paper," the SPLC says.

The suit contends that the schools where the plaintiff's children attend “suffer far worse conditions and outcomes than students at schools that are predominantly white and predominantly wealthy.”

The SPLC says 13 of the state’s 19 school districts that receive an “F” rating are more than 95 percent African-American. The remaining six range from 81 percent to 91 percent African-American. The state’s top five highest-performing school districts are predominantly white.

"The differences reflect the disparities found in schools across the state based on whether a school’s enrollment is predominantly African-American or predominantly white," the SPLC says.

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