Maryland Settles HBCU Federal Lawsuit for $577 Million

Senate Pres. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) signed a bill last month that will direct an additional $577 million to Maryland's historically black colleges and universities over the course of a decade. Jones was chief sponsor of the House bill. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

After years of legal wrangling, Maryland reached a $577 million settlement to end a 15-year-old federal lawsuit that accused the state of providing inequitable resources to its four historically Black colleges and universities.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) announced Wednesday morning that he had settled the case.

“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,” Frosh said in a statement.

The General Assembly moved quickly this year to pass a bill that would require the state to direct $577 million to Maryland’s HBCUs over the next decade, contingent on a final settlement agreement in the federal court case by June 1.

Hogan signed the legislation last month, although he vetoed a similar bill last year. In 2018, Hogan’s administration offered $100 million to settle the case and in 2019, Hogan increased it to $200 million as a “final” offer.

The presiding officers of the General Assembly joined Frosh in heralding the settlement with the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education and their attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under the Law.

“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. The announcement today is a reminder of the good that we can do when we are committed to doing good for all Marylanders,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in a statement.

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 the bill 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.

“With today’s historic settlement of the HBCU litigation, we are finally able to move forward to give every college student in Maryland the chance to succeed. I am proud that the House of Delegates, the Senate and the Legislative Black Caucus all stepped forward to lead in this monumental effort,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), the chief sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement.

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