OPINION: Give Public Education the Ballot this November, Mississippi

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"Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights." —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

After Martin Luther King's "Give Us the Ballot" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1957 and several tumultuous years of battles for civil rights, including the right for African Americans to vote, the United States passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that increased voter access by significant margins. Dr. King demanded the ballot because some states were undermining the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Many districts in the South, especially, were still "separate but equal."

Today our public-education system faces similar circumstances, due to underfunding, and the victims are Mississippi's children. As legislators continue to undervalue public education and to systematically underfund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the legal formula that sets a baseline for school funding, districts have become separate and unequal communities. The state's opposition to enforcing the law has left Mississippi children behind and deprived them of their right to an adequate and equitable education. The communities that suffer the most are communities of color, impoverished rural communities, and students across the state with special needs.

Written into law in 1997, MAEP is the formula our state uses to determine how much money is spent per child per year for an adequate education. The State of Mississippi multiplies the total student cost and the attendance record of each individual school in each district to reach the total cost for the year. The local school district is required to pay up to 27 percent of that total while the State is required to pay the rest. This is how it is supposed to work; however, the State has only

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