BY: David Dallas
Even before integration, there was a big push for public school consolidation. During the Cold War years, the Soviets were doing it and the nation feared falling behind in the “education race.” There was also an economy of scales argument which is still being used today. But when it comes to public school expenditures, recent studies have shown that per pupil costs begin to rise when districts begin to exceed certain numbers. Even adjusting for inflation, it cost nearly 10 times more to educate a public school student today than it did in the 1940’s. And that’s not all teachers’ salaries.
Overwhelming evidence also suggests students in small schools achieve higher levels of academic success than their peers at larger schools. This is especially true for disadvantaged students and in Mississippi many of our public school students suffer from a host of disadvantages.
Our public education problem is about more than racial equality now. It is about educational and economic opportunity for all of our citizens. The real strength of our nation can only be measured by our weakest link. If even one child falls through the cracks, ending up neglected, their very spirit destroyed by a poor public education system, it is our nationally shared failure.
It might have been better if we had attempted to integrate our public schools gradually starting with the first grade and moving up each year with a group of students and their families growing to know and care for one another. A group of leaders from the Delta pleaded for such an arrangement with the Justice Department before 1970. They were denied and as a result many whites fled the pubic school system and the Delta entirely.
The Justice Department’s intentions for swift and immediate integration may have been good, but we all know how you pave the road to hell.