Racial disparities in education have long been an issue that black people want addressed and remedied. From redlining to a general lack of resources, schools in black communities have gotten the short end of the stick for some time. In Mississippi, a group advocating for education reform seeks to take action in closing the racial gap in their state.
Jackson Free Press reports that a federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit that was originally filed in 2017 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alleging that the state of Mississippi allows inequality in funding between predominately white schools and predominantly black schools.
In 2019, U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour dismissed the lawsuit filed on behalf of low-income African American women who said black schools are in worse condition than white ones, ruling that state officials were immune from being sued.
Fortunately, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision Thursday, ruling that state sovereign immunity “is not limitless” and people are free to file suits against the state as long as they are seeking changes going forward and not compensation for past practices.
“We get what we always wanted, which is a chance to prove our case—that Mississippi is violating this federal law,” Will Bardwell, an attorney for Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Associated Press on Friday.
Bardwell is referring to a law that dates back to the end of the Civil War. From AP News:
The lawsuit said Mississippi was violating a federal law that allowed the state to rejoin the union after the Civil War. The 1870 law said Mississippi could not change its 1868 state constitution in a way to deprive any citizen of “school rights and privileges.” The state now has a constitution that was adopted in 1890 and has been amended several times.
“From 1890 until the present day, Mississippi repeatedly has amended its education clause and has used those amendments to systematically and deliberately deprive African Americans of the education rights guaranteed to all Mississippi schoolchildren by the 1868 Constitution,” the lawsuit says.
Beyond the disparities in funding, the lawsuit says that the conditions in black schools have caused lower academic performances, claiming that fewer than 11 percent of students who attend mostly black schools were proficient in reading and math.
The lawsuit also said that black Mississippi schools are plagued with wet ceilings, chipping paint and inexperienced teachers and that predominantly white schools attended by students that come from higher-income families didn’t have these issues because they have extensive resources as well as teachers with more experience and classrooms that are in better condition. Subsequently, those schools rank far higher in academic performance.