The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi for allegedly discriminating against African American students. The lawsuit asserts that the state's public education system is in violation of a federal law that dates back to the fallout of the Civil War.
On May 23, the SPLC filed a lawsuit against Mississippi on behalf of four African American mothers whose children attend public school in the state. The suit alleged that the state Legislature withheld proper funding to schools with predominately black student bodies, the Associated Press reports.
"I'm filing this lawsuit because the state has an obligation to make the schools that black kids attend equal to the schools that white kids attend," said Indigo Williams, one of the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit cited that the 19 worst-rated school districts in the state had predominantly black students, while the five highest-rated districts had predominately white students. The SPLC's filing asserted that the predominantly black schools lacked "textbooks, literature, basic supplies, experienced teachers, sports and other extracurricular activities, tutoring programs, and even toilet paper."
In a twist, the SPLC accused Mississippi of violating a federal law that had allowed the state to rejoin the Union following the Civil War.
In 1868, Mississippi established a system of free public schooling and mandated that funding be equally divided between children aged 5 to 21. In 1870, Mississippi was allowed to rejoin the Union under the Readmission Act, under which the state pledged to never deny any citizens their right to education based on race, according to The Clarion-Ledger.
Since 1954, the Mississippi Legislature has exercised discretion over which school districts are provided funding.
Attorney Michael Rebell noted that the current Mississippi constitution "gives the Legislature such unbridled discretion... the Legislature can do whatever they want."
The defendants in the SPLC lawsuit included Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, all of the state's GOP officials, Mississippi state school Superintendent Carey Wright and the Mississippi Board of Education.
Bryant released a statement blasting the lawsuit, asserting that the SPLC was merely drumming up publicity.
"This is merely another attempt by the Southern Poverty Law Center to fundraise on the backs of Mississippi taxpayers," Bryant said. "While the SPLC clings to its misguided and cynical views, we will continue to shape Mississippi's system of public education into the best and most innovative in America."
It should be noted that it is the four mothers who are suing the state, while the SPLC is only representing them. Precious Hughes, one of the plaintiffs, tearfully stated during a press conference that her daughter's classroom was "old, dark and gloomy -- like a jail."
On April 26, national data aggregator SmartAsset ranked the state of Mississippi 41st in providing public K-12 education, giving it an overall D- grade, according to Vermont Biz.