By Senator Cory V. McCray
Over the last 13 years, a coalition of leaders across the State of Maryland has been working tirelessly to resolve the inequities felt by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in our state. Thanks to the leadership of House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, the General Assembly passed House Bill 1260 in the 2020 Legislative Session, which would appropriate $577 million to Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore over the next ten years.
Since 2006, the State of Maryland has been embroiled in a federal lawsuit brought by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education. The suit alleges that the State of Maryland has underfunded its HBCUs and allowed predominately white institutions to duplicate educational programs that were already offered at HBCUs. The result has been that HBCUs are not on a level playing field when it comes to attracting prospective students to their institutions. Efforts to settle the lawsuit have not yet been successful.
I was honored to assist my colleagues Senate President Pro Tem Melony Griffith and Senator Charles Sydnor during the committee hearings and floor debate for this historic piece of legislation, which would mark significant progress on reaching a settlement agreement. As we prepared and researched for this bill, I often thought about the advocates whose shoulders we stand on—advocates like HBCU alumni; HBCU staff, faculty, and administrators; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and retired State Senators Joan Carter Conway and Nathaniel McFadden. Passing this bill in the Maryland General Assembly was no small feat and the Maryland State Senate spoke decisively with a 45-0 vote in support of HB 1260.
Given this background, it was my hope that Governor Larry Hogan would either sign the bill into law or allow it to take effect without his signature. But even though support for the legislation was clear in the state legislature, the Governor vetoed it on May 7, 2020. Rejecting a landmark piece of legislation that received broad and bipartisan support was a regrettable misstep. I am committed to ensuring that we have the support necessary in the upcoming session to override the Governor’s veto and correct this unfortunate mistake.
It has long been clear that legislative action like HB 1260 was necessary. In a 2013 decision, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake found in favor of the coalition partners and ruled that Maryland had allowed HBCU programs to be illegally duplicated by predominately white institutions. According to the court, the “policies and practices of unnecessary program duplication… continue to have segregative effects as to which the State has not established sound educational justification.”
Since that ruling, there have been a number of coalition meetings and rallies taking place across the state. There have also been a number of settlement offers that the coalition partners have determined were inadequate. I am thankful that HB 1260’s sponsors, Speaker Jones and Senator Sydnor, have worked diligently with the coalition partners and our state’s budgetary leaders to work towards an adequate resolution that is fair to Maryland HBCUs.
As the husband of a proud Coppin State University alum (Class of 2005), I know the lasting impact that HBCUs have on the lives and education of Marylanders. Unfortunately, our HBCUs have gotten the short end of the stick for far too long. Overriding the Governor’s veto would be a major step forward in correcting this injustice. I humbly request that all of the neighbors, legislators, and alumni who proudly supported HB 1260 during the last legislative session continue to fight for its enactment now. My colleagues and I have read your emails over the years and it is now more important than ever that we keep up the momentum and see this mission through.