By Bernard C. “Jack” Young
3:03 PM EDT, March 26, 2013
For many Marylanders, Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed fiscal year 2014 budget includes plenty to celebrate.
The governor's "balanced approach" to budgeting translates into increased employment, health care benefits for additional families and continued investment in programs that directly support primary education. The governor's budget also includes encouraging signs that Maryland's recovery from the Great Recession is gathering steam.
But despite those successes, the budget fails to fully invest in some of our state's brightest minds.
Back in February, members of Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus, citing the meagerness of the governor's proposed increase in funding for the state's four historically black colleges and universities — Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore —requested a five-year, $70 million allocation to help the institutions better compete for students by offering increased financial aid and converting adjunct instructors to full-time positions.
The caucus' request was an attempt to achieve parity between Maryland's HBCUs and the state's other universities. At first glance, this may come across as the HBCUs simply requesting additional funding because they overwhelmingly educate minorities. But research and facts prove otherwise.
A number of studies have shown that Maryland intentionally underfunded its HBCUs compared to white colleges and universities throughout this country's ugly history of segregated education.
According to a recent story in the Gazette newspaper, the Legislative Black Caucus referenced a study estimating that from 1984 to 2010, Maryland's HBCUs were denied nearly $1 billion "in state appropriations, tuition and fee revenues compared to their traditionally white peers."
In 2006, a group of HBCU students and alumni filed a lawsuit against the state asking for $2.1 billion to correct its long-standing failure to equally fund Maryland's HBCUs.
Two years later, when the state commissioned a study to develop a funding model for higher education, the committee found that "the magnitude of the challenges faced by Historically Black Institutions is particularly great, especially at the undergraduate level, and will require special attention and consideration if they are to be satisfactorily overcome."
While the state's long-documented history of disinvestment is troubling, there are signs of improvement. Funding to HBCUs has increased significantly in recent years, and many of these institutions have benefited from additional investments in development projects and academic programming.
And to be fair, the governor has taken real steps toward beefing up Maryland's investment in higher education. From presiding over a primary and secondary educational system that has been repeatedly voted best in the nation to his support of the landmark Dream Act, Governor O'Malley has frequently shown a willingness to invest in Maryland's future by prioritizing funding for programs related to higher education.
Among the facts the governor rightly notes on his website:
•Maryland has been the only state in recent years to keep tuition flat at its public universities for four years in a row.
•An innovative program called Skills2Compete Maryland helps individuals acquire training to secure middle- or high-skilled jobs.
•Maryland students are first in the nation in Advanced Placement success.
These steps are welcome and necessary, but Maryland's HBCUs will need additional help if they are to level the field and finally achieve parity with the other, historically white, institutions.
While I applaud Governor O'Malley's continued dedication to our state's colleges and universities, I feel it only right to ensure each institution has the appropriate resources to fully educate our young adults. And a just solution would certainly take the past into consideration when determining funding for our state's HBCUs.
Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a fictitious company paid two workers — both of equal skill and performing identical tasks — different salaries based solely on their race. Over the course of a decade, one employee received $20,000 per year, while his peer was paid 10 times that amount. Eventually, the company changed its tune and decided that race would no longer factor into determining the worker's salaries and increased the lower-paid worker's wages on par with his colleague. While the employer might have leveled the playing field, it would not have gone far enough to account for the underpaid worker's decade of lost earnings.
Much like the fictional worker, the state must recognize the negative impact that generations of underfunding have had on our HBCUs and finally make them whole.
Bernard C. "Jack" Young is president of the Baltimore City Council. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: PrezJackYoung.
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