Gov. Larry Hogan is making a “final offer” of $200 million to settle a longstanding lawsuit over disparities in Maryland’s higher education system, his administration said Thursday, a figure far less than half of what the advocates for the state’s four historically black universities have demanded.
The case — which has pitted a coalition of HBCU advocates against the state for 13 years — claims Maryland fostered segregation by allowing better-funded academic programs at traditionally white universities to undermine similar ones at historically black schools. Lawyers representing the HBCU coalition sent a letter two weeks ago to elected officials proposing the state pay $577 million, “spread over a reasonable time period."
“Governor Hogan remains interested in resolving this matter with a comprehensive settlement,” his chief legal counsel Robert Scholz wrote in Thursday’s letter to Del. Darryl Barnes, chair of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. Hogan, a Republican, "is prepared to make a final offer to resolve this case of up to $200 million in funds over a ten year period, commencing in fiscal year 2021.”
The two sides were unable to reach a settlement in court-ordered confidential mediation earlier this year, and have since taken the debate into the public arena.
At that time, Hogan’s last public offer was $100 million over a ten-year period.
After the coalition put out its settlement offer earlier this month, Barnes reached out to the governor’s office to schedule a meeting to talk through the $577 million figure. he said no meeting took place before Thursday’s letter.
Barnes called Hogan’s latest offer “extremely low and, in my opinion, unacceptable.”
Scholz said in Thursday’s letter he is willing to meet with Barnes.
Scholz’s letter argues the state has made massive investments over the past two decades to “redress the vestiges of discrimination in its public higher education system,” and that the Hogan administration has provided record funding to the historically black universities.
He also pointed out the difficulties HBCUs across the country are facing as the higher education ecosystem evolves.
“Changes in American higher education in recent years made the policy choices to integrate the HBCUs difficult,” Scholz wrote.
The lawyers fighting on behalf of Maryland’s four HBCUs — Morgan State, Coppin State, Bowie State and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore — also said the offer is not enough.
It will cost much more than that, they argue, for the schools to develop unique, in-demand academic programs that will enable them to attract students of all races. The schools also need additional funding so they can provide more scholarships and ramp up marketing efforts “to offset the state’s decades of stigmatization of the HBCUs," attorney Mike Jones said.
The figure Jones floated is less than Mississippi paid in a similar lawsuit, when accounting for inflation. In 2002, Mississippi paid more than $500 million to settle its landmark Ayers case, which successfully argued the state had denied black residents equal education opportunities by discriminating against its three HBCUs.
“The State’s offer of $200 million shows that it is still not serious about remedying a constitutional violation that [Judge Catherine Blake] said was as bad as if not worse than Mississippi,” Jones wrote in a statement.
If the parties can’t reach an agreement, the case’s future lies with the federal appeals court. Scholz — who noted Hogan’s offer topped that of former Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley — said the HBCU coalition would face “very substantial litigation risk” there.
“In court, the question will be a constitutional one; what is necessary to remedy the violation,” Jones wrote in a statement. “It will not be a political question of how one governor’s inadequate remedy compared to his predecessor’s inadequate offer.”