Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) signed legislation Wednesday that requires the state to direct $577 million in additional funding to Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities over the course of a decade.
Last year, Hogan vetoed a similar bill that unanimously passed the Senate and passed the House of Delegates by a 129-2 vote, referencing the potential economic fallout from the then-fledgling COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) reintroduced the bill this year, and it was passed early during the legislative session, allowing a same-session veto override vote if necessary.
Last week, the House of Delegates approved the measure in a 120-14 vote. On the same day, the Senate unanimously passed the bill, with 38 senators signed on as cosponsors.
Sitting with the presiding officers of the General Assembly, Hogan signed the bill at Bowie State University on Wednesday afternoon.
“With our economy recovering and our much improved fiscal situation, I’m very pleased that we are now able to take this historic action,” Hogan said.
After “tough debate, negotiation and compromise” over the last 15 years, this measure lays “the path forward for tomorrow,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said. “What we are doing here today is providing the necessary resources so that we can invest in the cutting edge programs that are going to lead Maryland into the future.”
Hogan’s signature brings the state a significant step closer to settling a 15-year federal lawsuit alleging inequitable resources at the schools. In 2006, a coalition of alumni and supporters of Maryland’s HBCUs filed the lawsuit, contending that the state had underfunded its four historically black institutions and allowed traditionally white universities to duplicate programs offered at HBCUs, undermining their ability to attract students.
The court ruled in 2013 that the HBCUs were not underfunded compared to traditionally white institutions, but that program duplication had perpetuated segregation. Since then, the state and coalition have been working towards an agreement on how to resolve the issue.
The additional funding in House Bill 1/Senate Bill 1 must be used to supplement, not supplant, state expenditures for the HBCUs, to help expand academic programs including online programs, and to bolster scholarship and financial aid support, as well as professional development.
To offset economic concerns from the pandemic, funding will begin in fiscal year 2023, with $16.8 million going to Bowie State University, $9 million to Coppin State University, $24 million to Morgan State University and $9.7 million to University of Maryland Eastern Shore in the first year.
However, the measure is contingent on a final settlement agreement in the federal court case by June 1, to be executed by the state attorney general. Michael D. Jones, attorney for the coalition, said he expects no problem in reaching a settlement.
“We expect that this will go smoothly and quickly, to allow the parties to meet the June deadlines in the legislation,” he wrote in a statement to Maryland Matters.
In recent years, HBCU advocates have pressed for a state settlement of up to $1 billion, including in a 2019 letter Michael Jones wrote to General Assembly leaders after negotiations with the executive branch stalled.
In 2018, Hogan’s administration offered $100 million to settle the case and in 2019, Hogan offered $200 million as a “final” offer.
Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel and senior deputy director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who served as co-lead counsel in the case, said the bill signing “paves the way for a landmark agreement that will not only enhance the four HBCU’s, but advance education equality in the state of Maryland.”
Speaker Jones said Wednesday that she anticipates a meeting with Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) and the plaintiffs in the spring.
“Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities are an essential and valued part of our state’s higher education system,” Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said in a statement. “The additional resources provided in HB1 will put our HBCUs on a path of continued success and educational excellence.”
The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education and HBCU students and alumni also heralded the signing.
“By signing this bill into law, Governor Larry Hogan is acknowledging that the past practices of allowing unconstitutional, unconscionable practices of racism and inequality in Maryland’s higher education system cannot continue to be part of Maryland’s history,” the coalition wrote in a statement. “Today, Governor Hogan chose to be on the right side of history and justice.”
University System of Maryland Jay A. Perman lauded the signing of the bill, writing in a statement that it is critical to ensure equitable funding for the state’s HBCUs. All HBCUs except Morgan State University are under the University System of Maryland.