Mississippi still has money to spend from the 2002 settlement that was supposed to desegregate the state’s public universities, according to the presentation of the budget during the meeting of the board of directors of higher education institutions on Thursday.
The settlement stems from Ayers v. Fordice, a 1975 class action lawsuit that alleged the state of Mississippi systematically underfunded Mississippi’s three historically black universities, Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University.
After nearly thirty years of litigation, state and private plaintiffs, led by U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, settled in 2002. Mississippi agreed to pay the three HBCUs approximately $417 million in additional funding over the next 20 years for capital improvements, endowments, and summer school programs.
That money was supposed to run out at the end of this month, but on Thursday IHL board members approved the allocation of additional funds, about $1.6 million, that universities hadn’t spent. . IHL also allocated an additional $3 million in interest from an endowment created by the settlement, which the board will allocate in perpetuity.
The reason the funds are not being spent is unclear; IHL did not respond by press time.
Since the lawsuit was settled, many attorneys have argued that the payment was not enough to bring HBCUs on par with predominantly white institutions in Mississippi. Alvin Chambliss, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, was unwilling to settle, but the State of Mississippi reached a settlement despite his objections.
Chambliss’s sentiment is echoed today by many HBCU alumni, faculty, and administrators. They point out that while HBCUs were receiving the settlement funds, state lawmakers were making deep cuts in funding for higher education. To make up for the loss, the HBCUs had to use the settlement funds as another credit, rather than a way to make up for the PWIs.
The liquidation of the Ayers settlement this year comes as the eight universities see an increase in state appropriations. This is primarily due to funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, John Pearce, IHL assistant commissioner for finance, told trustees on Thursday.
This session, lawmakers allocated universities about $176 million in capital funds to make infrastructure improvements and repairs, a 1,230% increase in capital funds allocated last year.
“There will be a lot of investment that can be made in the capital operations of institutions,” Pearce said.
The eight universities are also seeing more revenue from tuition fees, according to IHL’s fiscal year 2023 budget. All universities except Jackson State have increased tuition in the past two years, while Jackson State has seen an increase in enrollment.
Tuition revenue represents “a real increase in the institutions’ ongoing operations,” Pearce said, adding that “it’s all a big increase.”
Pearce added that this still does not change the decades-long trend of state appropriations making up a decreasing share of university budgets.
“Just for context, even though we’ve gotten better year over year, we still have a shift in the long-term funding of the university system away from Mississippi State and towards tuition,” he said. -he declares.
Outside of Ayers funding, the three HBCUs are seeing some of the biggest budget increases this year. After the University of Mississippi, which will see a budget increase of approximately 8%, Alcorn State and Valley State will have the next highest increases at approximately 7%.
Jackson State receives the largest share of unspent funds and endowment revenue, according to an email from IHL spokesperson Caron Blanton. Jackson State receives approximately $3 million, Valley State receives $1.3 million, and Alcorn State receives approximately $300,000.
Most of these funds come from an endowment created by the regulations. The regulations stated that universities could not control endowment income until they reached at least 10% “other-race” enrollment. Until then, revenues had to be spent on advertising and scholarships for “other races”, i.e. white students. An ad hoc committee under IHL would be responsible for endowment income for each HBCU until the university meets the enrollment requirement.
Jackson State and Alcorn State met the registration requirement, but Valley State was never able to do so, so the IHL committee is still overseeing its revenue endowment.
As for the private endowment, the IHL council was supposed to raise $35 million which HBCUs could also receive once they meet the enrollment requirements. To date, he has only raised $1 million. The by-law contained a provision specifying that the council did not have to raise all the funds to meet its obligations.
— Article credit to Molly Minta of Mississippi Today —