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Moving a step closer to settling a longstanding desegregation case, the Mississippi Legislature committed the state to spending $75 million over the next five years for campus improvements at three historically black universities. The first $15 million installment was approved by both houses as part of a $157 million bond financing program for construction and repair projects in state government. The House passed the bond bill Sunday and the Senate approved it Monday. It now goes to the governor. The money is tied to the settlement of the state’s 26-year-old college desegregation case. The state College Board, state officials and plaintiffs have been negotiating a settlement since June. Lawmakers left it up to the College Board to decide how to spend the $15 million, based on what details would be included in a settlement to be presented to U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. “There are specific projects proposed in the settlement. Judge Biggers will know what he wants to do. We don’t want to tie the hands of a federal court,” Rep. Jeff Smith said. The late Jake Ayers filed the lawsuit in 1975, claiming the state’s three historically black public colleges — Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State — got less money than five historically white universities. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed and ordered the state to remedy the situation. In addition to the money for capital improvements, the Legislature is providing about $18 million for endowments at the three historically black schools in the higher education appropriations bill on its way to the governor. All told, funds to beef up programs, salaries and facilities at the black schools could total a half-billion dollars over 17 years, officials have said. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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