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Jucos lobbying lawmakers for money

JACKSON — Representatives of Mississippi’s 15 community and junior colleges are urging lawmakers to steer more money their way.

Eric Clark, executive director of the state Board of Community and Junior Colleges, said enrollment at the schools is up by nearly 16 percent this spring from last year. He said the recession has driven laid-off workers into classrooms to be retrained.

However, that has put a strain on the schools, which have lost about $21.5 million in state funding this fiscal year because of Gov. Haley Barbour’s budget cuts, Clark said.

“We’re doing what we can. We have very lean operations,” Clark said. “We want people to come. The community colleges are getting people off welfare and out of minimum wage jobs and teaching them the jobs skills to make a good living for their families and to pay more taxes.”

Barbour joined the college leaders at a news conference Feb. 18 at the Capitol, but he said he wouldn’t “sugarcoat” the state’s financial situation, “which is the worst it’s been in my lifetime.”

Barbour said he had to cut $458 million from what began as a $6-billion budget this year because of lagging revenue collections.

Legislators for weeks have been debating how much money could be restored to state programs this year by dipping into various funds, including the state’s rainy day fund and the health care trust fund, where Mississippi’s annual payments from a national tobacco settlement are deposited.

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