By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

HBCU students, alumni and advocates across the state are celebrating an historic step in moving toward final settlement of the decades long-Maryland HBCU Equity Trial this week.  The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation allocating close to 580 million to the state’s four HBCU’s.  

“What has been proven with the passing of this legislation is that we are One Maryland! It will take more work to fully realize that vision, but this is a momentous start,” said Sharon Y. Blake, Spokesperson for Maryland HBCU Advocates.  

The General Assembly ensured funding for the state’s four HBCU’s would remain a priority when legislators moved swiftly to adopt House Bill 1260, which calls for “additional funding in the amount of $577 million, which shall be provided in equal amounts in each of fiscal years 2022 through 2031”.

After the announcement of an abbreviated legislative session due to state Covid-19 meeting restrictions, the Senate needed to act quickly, according to Eugene Clark, Chief of Staff, Office of State Senator Charles Sydnor, III. 

HB 1260 already passed the House earlier by a vote of 129-2. Senators quickly adopted the House Bill which passed the Senate chamber 45-0 Saturday evening according to Clark. 

The General Assembly’s legislation effectively settles the HBCU Equity Trial and allows Maryland to “ right a long, historical wrong, to get on the right side of history and to create the kinds of colleges and universities that all Marylanders can be proud of” said Sydnor in written testimony and in comments before his Senate colleagues.  

Efforts to settle the long-standing HBCU lawsuit originally filed in US District Court in 2006 stalled last year after Governor Larry Hogan offered made a final settlement offer of $200 million, a figure Maryland Legislative Black Caucus chair, Darryl Barnes called “extremely low and unacceptable.”  

In its ruling on behalf of HBCU students, alumni and friends issued in 2013, the US District of Maryland Court estimated the cost to rectify historic duplication of HBCU’s academic programs by TWI’s (traditional white institutions) at $1-2 billion.  In September 2019, Michael D. Jones, attorney for the Coalition for Equity and Excellence, sent a letter to the Maryland General Assembly urging legislators to get involved with legislation to settle the case for $577 million.   

By October 2019, Hogan still refused to consider any additional settlement amount. Newly elected Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones pledged that HBCU legislation aimed at settling the court case would be her first act of the 2020 legislative session. “The HBCU Case has been an ongoing issue and underscored the marked inequality in our higher education system, Jones said.  

In comments specifically designed for Afro readers, Jones reflected this week, “I’m proud of the General Assembly for passing this historic bill to solve the issue once and for all. We have taken the necessary action to eliminate the vestiges of program duplication and level the playing field for all students.”   

HB 1260 is headed to Hogan’s desk for signature. The Governor has 30 days to either sign, veto or allow legislation to become law without his signature. “I look forward to the Governor’s full support as we work toward the final resolution of this 13-year case,” Jones stated.