Public schools in Mississippi got a big win in April, largely as a result of the efforts of rural education advocates who are at the forefront of a movement to improve public schools in that state. Governor Haley Barbour signed into law a bill that provides full funding for the state's school finance formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). MAEP was enacted in 1997, but was never fully funded (it was almost fully funded in 2003).
Barbour, who supports private school initiatives, has opposed increased support for public education and lobbied against full funding of MAEP. He pledged at the signing to support full MAEP funding for the next four years if he is re-elected, but, according to close observers in Mississippi, he is openly working to defeat House leadership who pushed for full MAEP funding and for increased funding for at-risk students.
The Governor's change of stance on MAEP-however tinged by election year politicking-is a testament to the groundswell of support for public school funding and the growing recognition among Mississippians of all backgrounds that improving public education is essential to improving the state's economy and addressing its entrenched poverty.
This seismic shift in the Magnolia State is no accident. Rural education advocates working with Southern Echo and the Mississippi Education Working Group have spent several years engaging local citizens in school improvement efforts and in school governance and policy-making. A process to win full funding for MAEP began in 2004 and knitted together a broad-based coalition of more than 30 organizations across traditional race, class, geographic, and political party lines. Organizations led by African Americans and based in African-American communities in the rural Delta provide significant leadership in policy analysis, strategic planning, and the preparation of popular education materials.
Full funding for MAEP is one step in a long-term agenda of the rural activists who fought to secure it. These activists have always understood that MAEP provides only enough funding for an adequate education. Now, as a result of their efforts, citizens across the state are recognizing that much more is needed to ensure that all children receive the high quality education they deserve and the state needs. That's a real win for Mississippi.