Education in Mississippi
Education in Mississippi can be traced historically as far back as the early 19th century. While early efforts at systematic education were mostly in the form of private schools and academies, a public education system was implemented by the late 1800s. Throughout its history, Mississippi has been subject to notable education inequalities caused by issues ranging from racial discrimination to rural zoning. Today, Mississippi struggles to meet national assessment standards, and the state has low graduation rates. The Mississippi Legislature and Board of Education develop policies aimed at building better learning environments and standards in the classroom.
Prior to the American Civil War, educating the youth in Mississippi was in the hands of academies and private schools.1 There was no set curriculum enforced throughout the state, and children mostly stayed at home to work to support the family.
Funding for the few schools was left to private donations and student tuition. In Columbus, Franklin Academy for Boys was opened in 1821 and was the first of many public schools in Mississippi. By 1830, only 13 percent of white children were enrolled in public schools, and there was limited access to government-funded schools at the beginning of the Reconstruction.2
The first piece of legislation to offer free education to all children, regardless of race, was Mississippi’s Constitution of 1868. The constitution established a “uniform system of free public schools, by taxation or otherwise, for all children between the ages of five and twenty-one years.”citation needed
Legislation was passed in 1870 that created school districts under the supervision of an elected State Superintendent of Education and appointed country superintendents, as well. Areas of a population with at least 5000 were permitted to establish separate schools districts and extend the school term to seven months.1
The Constitution provided the following features in its legislation to establish a public education system: 1. Administration: the state superintendent of public education must be elected to provide “general supervision of the commons schools and the educations interests of the State.” A State Board of Education shall also be made up of the State Superintendent, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State. 2. School Term: The school year should also be at least four months. Any county that does not abide by the guidelines presented in the legislation should forgo its share of school funding and taxes. 3. Funding: The common schools were funded from a combination of revenue earned from the sixteenth sections lands, and excise tax on alcohol, military exemption fees and public and private donations specifically designed for public education. Funding was then invested in the United State bonds and the interest collected was allotted to support school systems. A poll tax was also levies to aid in funding education.
The Constitution also specifically states that public schools or their funds were not to be controlled by any religious group and it was forbidden for public schools to convert in a parochial school.
Missionary groups in Northern Mississippi helped establish schools to educate African American youth. Some white supremacists tried to take control of the educational system, hoping to quell efforts to educate African Americans.3
The Constitution of 1868 did not include information on integrating public schools. It was determined by the legislature that each individual school district could choose whether to integrate or remain segregated. Superintendents of each county were told to divide the funds equally between white and black schools in the district, but frequently more of the funding was sent to white schools.3
Therefore, white schools were better constructed and were able to better serve the students academically. During the 1870s, education for blacks was further endangered as violence erupted in protest of the education of African Americans. At the same time, the government greatly decreased funding for public schools and effectiveness of schools diminished.
State Superintendent J. R. Preston in 1886, created a revised education code that slowly raised standards in the classroom and teachers were then paid more in salaries than before and were required to take teacher licensing exams.
The Mississippi Board of Education, which currently has nine members, oversees education policy in the state.4 The Board appoint the State Superintendent of Education, sets public education policy and oversees the Mississippi Department of Education.
Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution states the that the Mississippi Governor shall appoint one member from Mississippi’s Northern Supreme Court District, one member from Mississippi’s Central Supreme Court District, one member from Mississippi’s Southern Supreme Court district, one member who is employed as a school administrator, and one member who is employed as a public school teacher. Additionally, the Lieutenant Governor shall appoint two members-at-large, and the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representative shall appoint two members-at-large.4
- McLemore, R.A. A. (1973). A History of Mississippi.
- Guyton, Pearl Vivian (1935). The History of MIssissippi.
- McMillen,, Neil. Dark Journey.
- "Mississippi Department of Education". Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- McMillen, Neil R. Dark Journey. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
- Guyton, Pearl Vivian. The History of Mississippi: From Indian Times to the Present Day. New York:Iroquois Publishing Company, 1935, 294-295.
- McLemore, R.A. A History of Mississippi.. Vol. 2. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1973.
- U.S. Department of Education http://www.ed.gov/
- US Census Bureau http://www.census.gov/
- Mississippi Department of Education http://www.mde.k12.ms.us/