Mississippi Legislators Give Final OK
To $503 Million Ayers Settlement
State legislators in Mississippi gave overwhelming approval last month to a resolution endorsing a $503 million settlement in a lengthy fight to desegregate universities, signaling a possible end to the case. The Senate approved the settlement by a 33-10 vote, two days after House members endorsed it 100-20.
The agreement to end the case, which provides millions of dollars for programs and facilities at three historically Black schools, was signed by all sides in April and forwarded to U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers. He has said he would approve the settlement only if lawmakers demonstrate they support it financially.
“It’s a really big, historical day for the citizens of Mississippi,” Attorney General Mike Moore said after the Senate action. “This is important because we are settling a very old case that’s been very divisive.”
Senators wrangled for nearly three hours over whether to support the proposed settlement. Proponents said Biggers gave the legislature a chance to endorse the settlement and that ending the case was the best for all concerned. Opponents said the state may have bartered in good faith, but the settlement was flawed and expensive.
In the House, Rep. Roger Ishee, R-Gulfport, said he was not going to vote for such a long-term obligation. He said lawmakers would be binding future legislators to the funding formula, and if those policy-makers in the future don’t meet the obligations they could face legal action.
Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, said the settlement is a bitter pill for some Black lawmakers to accept because of the decades of neglect of the historically Black colleges. West said the state’s history of failing to provide equal education opportunities at Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State made him skeptical.
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