More than 200 Charlotte-area residents are expected to board buses late tonight headed for a Washington, D.C., rally protesting the so-called achievement gap in U.S. schools.

Pastor Mildred McCullough, a member of Greater Mount Moriah Primitive Baptist Church, will be one of them.

McCullough is the mother of a 15-year-old who attends Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She said she’s concerned that CMS is not doing enough to provide needed resources to poor schools.

“The civil rights issue of our time is the achievement gap,” she told in a recent interview. “I’m confident that there are very small cells of parents who are frustrated with the system. If we come together, I think we can deliver a much more powerful message.”

Organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, the Saturday “Close the Gap” rally on the White House Ellipse on the National Mall is meant to kick off a broader campaign to address educational disparities. Organizer said they hope to attract as many as 300,000 people from all over the nation. The rally also marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court ruling.

More than 50 people from Mount Moriah will board a bus leaving at about 2 a.m., said McCullough, who organized the church’s participation. At least three other buses are expected to depart from Charlotte.

McCullough said she hopes the rally will draw national attention to an issue too long ignored in the United States. In the years since her two older children graduated from CMS schools, she said, she has seen a “serious decline” in the quality of public education in the district, especially as more poor students are lumped into failing schools.

On his NAN blog, Sharpton lists what he calls some “grim” facts:

  • Barely half of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school, with African American students graduating at 55 percent, Latinos at 53 percent and their white counterparts at 78 percent.
  • White students in the 12th grade are, on average, four years ahead of their African American peers.
  • On average in the United States, schools spend $1,000 a year more on affluent students than they do on low-income students.

“Public schools across the nation are actively denying African American and Latino students good teachers and good schools, creating an achievement gap that makes education equality the civil rights issue of our time,” he wrote in his blog.

Sharpton recently met with President Obama to discussion the education disparity and has vowed to work with anyone concerned about the issue, even political opponents. One of the speakers at the Saturday rally is expected to be former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgia conservative.

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