By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO
An agreement has been reached to settle a 15-year old lawsuit that will bring millions of dollars to Maryland’s four HBCUs beginning in 2024.
“This settlement marks an historic investment in Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It will enable these valued institutions to expand their academic reach and to assist thousands of students with getting the education they deserve,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who negotiated the final settlement on behalf of the State of Maryland.
The $577 million allocated for the historic settlement happened because of legislation passed by overwhelming margins by the Maryland General Assembly in both 2020 and 2021 in response to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals order that the state of Maryland settle the Maryland HBCU case.
Gov. Hogan initially vetoed the Maryland HBCU funding in 2020 citing the Covid-19 pandemic. He then signed legislation in March of this year after the General Assembly leadership in both the House of Delegates and State Senate made HBCU funding a top priority for the session that ended in April.
“We are finally able to move forward to give every college student in Maryland the chance to succeed” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones.
“I am proud that the House of Delegates, the Senate and the Legislative Black Caucus all stepped forward to lead in this monumental effort,” Jones added.
“After more than a decade and a half of litigation and with multiple bills passed by the General Assembly we can finally ensure that our HBCUs receive the equitable funding that they deserve,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson.
“The announcement today is a reminder of the good we can do when we are committed to doing good for all Marylanders,” Ferguson added.
The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, representing HBCU alumni, supporters, advocates and friends of Maryland’s four HBCUs is calling for a more measured approach.
David Burton, president of the HBCU advocacy group, has repeatedly cautioned that the settlement must first be accepted and approved by the 4th Circuit, US District Court. The court will determine that the 14th Amendment constitutional violation that prompted the case in the first case, has been addressed.
The $577 agreement reached late Wednesday must be presented to the Circuit Court of Appeals by June 11. At their December 2018 review of the Maryland HBCU case, the 4th Circuit Court mandated settlement of the case.
“The Court is of the firm conviction that this case can and should be settled” 4th District Appeals Court Judges Steven Agee, Stephanie Thacker and J. Harvie Wilkinson, wrote in their original order, issued in January 2019.
“We’ll make a further statement after the final step has been achieved and the legislation becomes operative,” Burton said.
Frosh remains confident the Court will accept the settlement agreement.
According to the proposed agreement, funding from the $577 settlement will be made available to Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore beginning in 2024 each year for 10 years according to a formula and terms finalized by the settlement participants.
Funds will be used to expand and improve existing academic programs, including online programs, as well as the development and implementation of new academic programs.
Funding will also be made available for scholarships and financial aid, as well as faculty recruitment and development.