This city has an opportunity to secure a better future for its young people in the form of a Nov. 3 ballot initiative to better fund public education. Unfortunately, this opportunity is under attack by the same mindset responsible for our segregationist past and the de facto segregation of schools today.
MPS is currently funded at the lowest rate allowed by state law. Amendment 382 would bring the district closer to the funding level of other large school districts in Alabama. This funding boost would lift property values, give businesses an incentive to locate here and potentially even keep the Air Force bases from leaving. It would, in the long run, benefit every Montgomery resident, and it would only cost the average homeowner about $12.75 a month.
So you have to wonder why there is such vehement opposition. It appears to be a straightforward moral question. Should we as a community invest our resources in the education, well-being, and future success of our children? Many are going against their own best interests by answering “no” to that question.
It’s no secret that white people in Montgomery largely abandoned the public schools a long time ago. White families chose to put their children in private schools and moved to east Montgomery, Autauga or Elmore. Over the years, this white flight led to a big demographic shift in MPS enrollment. As the schools became more segregated, community support and resources dried up as well.
Pike Road Schools are funded at more than three times the rate of MPS. In 2011, the town passed a tax increase to fund its new school system with little to no controversy. This increase was much larger than the one sought for MPS and didn’t include the same stipulations as the MPS proposal.
First of all, good for the residents of Pike Road for doing right by their young people. Second, why is this current initiative facing so much more opposition? The answer could be that Montgomery never truly integrated its schools, and even to this day, many in Montgomery and elsewhere are fighting to keep MPS separate and unequal.
Montgomery’s civil rights heritage is a source of great pride for most residents. Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King and countless other trailblazers inspired the world and sparked the civil rights movement with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And that was just the beginning of a vital civil rights legacy that lives on today.
But that history has a flip side. It was, for example, Montgomery’s white city government that implemented the segregationist laws that inspired the boycott. Our history also includes the time a white mob brutally attacked John Lewis and other Freedom Riders at the downtown Greyhound station. The city’s white-run Police Department stood back and watched as the attack unfolded.
You need only scratch the surface to uncover the violent, segregationist past that still haunts this city. The de facto segregation currently evident in Montgomery schools is a product of this legacy. When you look at the levels of poverty among MPS students, it is clear that class also plays a major role in the historic underfunding of Montgomery schools.
But I mention all this not to inspire guilt or anger but rather to engender hope. This is about the opportunity that presents itself to us now. We have the opportunity today to do the right thing. We can’t change the past, but we can take action that will help create a better future.
On Nov. 3, I will be flipping over the ballot and voting for Montgomery Public Schools because I love my hometown and want it to prosper.
Scott Johnson is the Communications Assistant for Montgomery Public Schools.