Students and alumni from Maryland’s four historically black colleges rallied Wednesday for resolution to a 13-year-old federal lawsuit over disparities in academic programs, prompting a presidential candidate to pledge to create a fund to increase HBCU spending by $50 billion nationwide.
The rally was held about a block from the state Capitol, as members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland were urging lawmakers to support a settlement of at least $577 million, more than double the $200 million offered by Gov. Larry Hogan over 10 years.
Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, wrote in an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday afternoon that “left without remedy, an injustice does not heal.”
“Lawsuits like the one in Maryland remind all of us how an uneven playing field yields underfunded colleges, declining federal funding and endowments that lag behind those of predominantly white institutions,” Buttigieg wrote. “As president, I will increase funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions by $50 billion.”
The lawsuit in Maryland from 2006 alleged the state had underfunded the institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly compete with and drain prospective students away from HBCUs.
In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system” that violated the Constitution.
Del. Darryl Barnes, who chairs the 59-member black caucus, said lawmakers plan to file legislation in Maryland for a settlement, which he said would be positive for the state by helping students prepare for good jobs and boost the economy.
“This is not just good for our HBCUs, but this is good for the state of Maryland,” Barnes, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said.
Students attending the rally came from as far as Princess Anne — about 110 miles (170 kilometers) away on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — home to one of the colleges.
Vernon Johnson, a sophomore at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, said HBCUs need more financial support, for academic programs as well as financial aid.
“We’re standing for HBCUs,” Johnson said. “Today, we need to understand the importance of our HBCUs. We need to get funded.”
Michael Jones, an attorney who has been representing a coalition in support of the schools, noted a 10-1 discrepancy in unique high-demand programs and unnecessary duplication of programs.
“The court ordered Maryland to close this disparity by providing the HBCUs with additional funding for programs, for marketing and scholarships on top of what the state has already been done, and that’s what the fight has been about.”
Jones recommended the $577 million settlement in a September letter “over a reasonable period of time.” He wrote the letter after mediation failed in July.
The money would allow the HBCUs to develop and launch several new, independent academic programs of the kind the state promised to provide in a 2000 agreement ordered by a federal judge in Maryland.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat who spoke at the rally, is urging the state’s Republican governor to agree to the $577 million amount.
Hogan responded in a letter to Jones last month that he has a responsibility to protect the state budget, as Maryland faces the prospect of a national economic downturn. He also noted that his administration has worked to fund HBCUs at historically high levels over the last five years.
The governor said lawmakers can look next year for the money to reach a settlement higher than his offer.
Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said Hogan’s $200 million offer represented “a 500 percent increase” over the offer of his predecessor, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.
“Governor Hogan has shown real leadership on this issue where others have repeatedly failed over the years,” DeLeaver-Churchill said.
Maryland’s four historically black colleges are Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.