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A federal judge in Jackson, Miss., said Thursday he’s ready to approve a settlement in Mississippi’s long-running college desegregation case if the Legislature assures him it supports the $500 million pact. In a 10-page opinion released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. said if lawmakers provide those assurances, he “will not stand in the way” and the settlement will be accepted by the court. A 1975 lawsuit claimed the state was neglecting its historically black schools. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Jake Ayers Sr., who filed the original suit in 1975, and sent the case back to Biggers. The agreement to end the court case, providing millions of dollars for programs and facilities at three historically black schools, was signed by all sides in April and forwarded to Biggers. Biggers said while the settlement has widespread support, it is expensive and hamstrings state leaders from making organizational changes in higher education for 17 years. The judge also expressed concern that the settlement is not universally supported in the public and private sectors — noting that some plaintiffs tried to separate themselves from the pact. Biggers said he felt the plan he had outlined for higher education in Mississippi would work better, but he was going on with the settlement anyway. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said legislative leaders were involved in the settlement process and he expected them to continue to support it. “The ruling by Judge Biggers offers an opportunity for investment in human capital and enhancement of public higher education in Mississippi,” Musgrove said in a statement. The Legislature convenes Tuesday. The settlement calls for $246 million to be spent over 17 years on academic programs at Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley. An additional $75 million would go to capital improvement projects, $70 million to public endowments and up to $35 million for private endowments. Other programs, including summer classes for struggling students, will receive the balance. The settlement also requires the historically black universities to reach at least 10 percent non-black enrollment for three consecutive years before they can fully control endowments. Ayers, the black man who filed the original 1975 suit on behalf of his son, Jake Jr., died in 1986. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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