PHILADELPHIA, Miss.–You may have heard about a lawsuit being prepared against the state by former governor Ronnie Musgrove and a group of lawyers, which would force Mississippi to pay school districts one and a half billion dollars to cover Mississippi’s underfunding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program since 2010. Former governor William Winter is against that idea. He talked about education in his speech at the Neshoba County Fair Thursday.
Winter, 91, spoke for his 26th time at the Fair, since he first went to the state legislature in 1947. He said that for many years Mississippi put preserving its Jim Crow racial segregation system ahead of educating its citizens, and that was to the state’s detriment.
“i have a hard time comprehending how far we have come in those 68 years,” he said.
“Less than 50 percent of the adult population had finished high school and a disturbingly high percent were functionally illiterate. We did not regard education as a priority for a lot of people. We were more interested in preserving a Jim Crow social order, rather than investing in the future.”
He said in those days almost every issue was viewed through the filter of race. That included voting against having a four-year medical school for fear that it might lead to integration.
He also talked of the other divides in the state, such as geographical location.
“The last 60 years have made an unbelievable difference in our state.”
The WHOLE speech:
He said that the turning point may have been in the summer of 1964, when three Civil Rights workers were murdered in Neshoba County.
“It may well have been right here in Neshoba County, when the conscience of the…good people of this state, sparked, I might add, by the Congress and the Supreme Court, caused attitudes to change.”
Winter then turned to addressing education in light of its historical importance.
“If you asked me this morning, what were the most important things that happened to Mississippi in my lifetime, I would unhesitatingly tell you it was the elimination of racial segregation in 1960s and the recognition in the years since then of the absolutely vital importance of adequate education for all of our people.”
He said he believes Mississippi has a long way to go “because we started so far back”.
“The people of Mississippi in 1982 made a historic decision to place a higher priority on education. The passage in 1997 of the Miss. Adequate Education Program was a huge step forward. The problem is that only twice since its passage has it been fully funded. We’ll never catch up on that basis. But rather than filing a lawsuit, I support the Constitutional amendment that has been proposed, and hopefully will be on the ballot next year to require annual adequate funding.”
Winter commended the current legislature for “a number of progressive steps”.
“Especial in their careful and judicious approach to establish charter schools,” he said. “Those schools must be set up with special care so that they do not lessen funding for all of public education.”
He said he believes a state-wide system of pre-K education will be the next huge step.
“It is a proven way to dramatically reduce the dropout rates.”
Winter closed by encouraging Mississippians to make the investments that pay off later.