BY BOBBY HARRISON
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON - The state College Board will ask the 2006 legislative session for money to begin a "catch-up" process to pay the settlement of the Ayers college desegregation case.
The case, which originally was filed in 1975, claimed Mississippi operated a segregated system of higher education. It was finally resolved in the federal court system in October 2004.
As part of the agreement, the state has agreed to pay the three historically black public universities - Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State - some $503 million over a 17-year period to correct the vestiges of segregation.
The Legislature already has appropriated about $160 million of that amount and a substantial portion before the settlement was reached in 2002.
The settlement established a schedule to provide the remainder of those payments. But because the settlement was being challenged by some of the original plaintiffs, the Legislature did not provide the full amount of the agreed-to payments in recent years.
At Wednesday's hearing of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, members discussedAyers and the amount of money that will be requested in 2006 from the Legislature.
The 12-member College Board will request $37.8 million to get back on the payment schedule agreed to in 2002. According to information compiled by the College Board, the state is $43.8 million behind on its obligation as it was set out in 2002.
"We're very hopeful we can get on track," College Board President Virginia Shanteau Newton of Gulfport said Wednesday. "We have every intention of meeting the obligation as do other state officials... We realize the budget situation is difficult, but we are committed to meeting the obligation of the settlement."
Senate Finance Committee chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, said legislative leaders also are committed to meeting the obligations of the settlement, but instead of trying to "catch up" want to start the payment schedule from the time the issue was finally resolved in court last year.
Since Katrina hit, Robertson said, "we have so many other obligations."
Gov. Haley Barbour's 2006 budget proposal, released Tuesday, recommends $25.7 million for Ayers, which is the same amount appropriated by the 2005 Legislature but about $12 million less than what the College Board is asking.
In last year's budget proposal, Barbour said he supportedmaking the '05 appropriation by the Legislature as the first year of the settlement. Pete Smith, a spokesman for the governor, said Wednesday, "We will continue to follow the court order on the Ayers settlement."
To follow the court order, with '05 being the first year would mean that the three historically black universities would receive another $25 million during the 2006 session for the upcoming fiscal year.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or BHarri9015@aol.com
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