As students return to high schools across Mississippi to rekindle friendships and prepare for the Friday night lights of football season, some of their classmates that started on the path of obtaining a high school diploma will not complete the journey. Black male students in Mississippi’s public schools are at significant of risk of dropping out of high school. From the 2006 to the 2012 graduating class, the dropout rates for Black males in Mississippi schools have been above 20% while the dropout rate for all students in Mississippi schools has declined from 17.6% to 13.9% over the same time period.
The long term effects of dropping out of high school are far reaching and can be seen across many indicators, including higher unemployment, underemployment, and incarceration rates. These social and economic ills then contribute to other issues, such as limited access to health care, inadequate housing, and financial insecurity.
There has been an ongoing debate in Mississippi about the level of funding of public education. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), the formula used by the state legislature to ensure all school districts get adequate funding, has only been fully funded twice since it was enacted in 1997. The last year Mississippi fully funded K-12 education was 2008, since then the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) has been underfunded by a total of $1.5 billion. Underfunding education in Mississippi hurts our economy in the short and long term. MAEP funding ensures that school districts in the most impoverished areas, with a lower local tax base, are able to provide a minimum level of support to their schools. Underfunding the MAEP formula, means that these school districts miss out on resources that could be used to provide directed support and wraparound services aimed at decreasing Mississippi’s Black male dropout rate.
As the debate continues around the funding of public education in Mississippi, a case can be made that additional school funding can help to implement evidence-based programs aimed at reducing the Black male dropout rate in Mississippi schools. By investing in public education, we can help to ensure that as students return to school to rekindle friendships and prepare for Friday night lights, all students in Mississippi will have the support needed to obtain a high school diploma.
- Dr. Corey Wiggins, Director – Mississippi Economic Policy Center