White rule in Mississippi has long made Jackson schools a target of either malevolent neglect or authoritarian abuse.

From the end of Reconstruction in 1875 to the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v Board of Education that ended legal racial segregation of public schools in 1954, the needs of black Mississippi school children were routinely ignored. In retaliation to the Brown ruling, white businessmen across Mississippi formed “Citizens Councils” to devise ways around forced school desegregation. In Jackson, the Council headquarters was located down the street from City Hall, with an office across the street from the governor’s mansion.

We are still being enslaved even TODAY

In 1964, the all-white Mississippi legislature passed a tuition grant to fund private, non-sectarian schools so white people could send their children to “council schools” using taxpayer dollars. The Citizens’ Council, which ran the private schools, opened its first school in Jackson in the fall of 1964. Governor Bryant himself attended one of the segregationist academies—Council McCluer High School, now called Hillcrest Christian School.

In the early 1960s, Council advocates disseminated “racial facts” to Jackson parents and advocated that white Jackson parents keep their children home rather than attend integrated schools. Mississippi had no compulsory school attendance law at the time. Under white rule in the 1960s, Jackson continued to fund schools for black families significantly less than schools for whites: $106 per black student compared to $149 per each white student.

When the 1969 case Singleton vs. the Jackson Public School District, ended legal segregation, thousands of Jackson’s white families fled the schools virtually overnight. When schools re-opened on February 1, 1970, there were 5,000 fewer students in attendance, most of the missing were white.

Any integration that did occur in Jackson peaked in the 1980s. By then, Jackson Public Schools was 85 percent black. Today the district is 95 percent black, and 99 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch, a common measure of poverty.


No one disputes that Jackson’s schools have struggled to serve their students.

According to results of the most recent round of standardized tests in the state, the percent of black students reaching proficiency in English Language arts is 19.8 percent, while the state average is 22.4. In math, black students fare even worse with only 14.8 percent reaching proficiency, also well below the state average of 23.5 percent.

The district was recently downgraded from a “D” rating in Mississippi’s rating system to “F.” but the rating system employed by the state has long been a moving target for schools. Changes in the state testing regime have stabilized baseline results over the last two years, but that hardly constitutes a reliable benchmark.

“The whole accountability process in the state has been wrongheaded to begin with,” says Pam Shaw. Shaw helps run Our JPS, a parent and citizen-led advocacy group for the local schools. Her criticism reflects widespread views that the rating system is more of a measure of poverty than it is of school performance. “When the schools are chronically underfunded, it’s a recipe for failure,” she argues.

Mississippi has funded schools fully only three times since 1997, shorting students and teachers over a billion dollars over the last four years. One result is a significant teacher shortage due to low salaries and challenging school climates.

“Black districts have been stretching resources since Reconstruction,” wrote Andre Perry in The Hechinger Report. Perry is a fellow at the Brookings Institute, a policy think tank in Washington, DC, and a former New Orleans charter school operator who has become a caustic critic of the charter industry.

“Last academic year, the district had to accommodate a mid-year cut of $1.3 million,” he noted of the Jackson district. “This school year, the district’s yearly allocation is approximately $9.6 million short. . . Children lose when schools don’t have the baseline funding resources they need to educate them.”

“I’ve been to schools in Jackson that didn’t have enough electrical outlets, much less computers with connection to high-speed internet,” says Shaw.

Numerous studies have shown school districts like Jackson Public Schools with high poverty levels require more funding to help address the considerable education challenges that derive from poverty. Yet, a recent study by the Education Law Center found that poverty levels of Mississippi schools vary considerably, but per public spending does not change much to compensate for needs of high-poverty schools. According to the study, high-poverty districts in the state would need an additional $15,000 in state and local spending per pupil above current levels for students to be able to achieve average outcomes. The report projects Mississippi’s highest poverty districts will need three times their current funding levels for more students to approach national average outcomes

“If [state officials] want to improve the lives of children in Jackson,” Oppenheim comments, “they have a screwy way of going about it—divesting in communities, defunding schools.”

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