Ayers settlement worthless unless it moves us forward

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 2, 2000

As the Legislative Budget Committee struggles with balancing thestate’s budget for the upcoming session, out comes the word that abillion dollars is what’s going to take to settle the Ayersdesegregation lawsuit.

One billion dollars that attorneys for the Ayers plaintiffs sayis needed to bring the state’s historically-black universities upto the same level as Ole Miss, State and Southern.

One billion dollars that a former Jackson State Universityprofessor says is needed to allow JSU to build an engineeringschool and a law school.

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One billion dollars that former Jackson city council member andconvicted felon Louis Armstrong says would allow the case to besettled, “next week.”

Let’s see now, the Legislative Budget Committee is struggling tofind an additional $170 million in revenue for next year to fundthings like teacher pay raises, roads and bridges, prisons, andschool construction — just to name a few items. What is an extrabillion dollars or so going to do to the budget?

Of course, as Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, has said, it isno problem because, “it is a multi-year plan. . . you can’t spend$1 billion in one year.”

Oh, we feel better.

The Ayers desegregation case was about the state’s past effortsto run a dual higher education system for blacks and whites thatresulted in the funding shortfalls for the state’shistorically-black schools. The Supreme Court ruled against thestate and ordered Mississippi to correct the problem.

For sake of argument, let’s say $1 billion is the magic number,and we have the money to spend. Over the next 10 years a massivebuilding program brings Jackson State, Alcorn State and MississippiValley State to equal footing with Ole Miss, State andSouthern.

How much is it going to cost to just maintain these newfacilities while also still maintaining the current ones?

New facilities do not a school make. It takes quality programswith quality staff. It takes respected educators who producequality graduates to give a school a prestigious name.

It takes funding, and duplicated programs take even morefunding. It takes higher salaries to attract the best educators.New buildings require continual maintenance, and old buildingsrequire even more maintenance.

The real solution to Ayers is not building more, but using whatwe have more efficiently. The real solution is consolidatingprograms, eliminating duplication, closing inefficient operationsand yes, shutting down schools, so that we have one strong systemthat serves everyone.

After all, was that not the purpose of desegregation in thefirst place?