xml:space="preserve">
Vernon Johnson, left, a sophomore at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, holds a sign at a rally in Annapolis, Maryland, with other students last November in support of efforts to settle a federal lawsuit that is more than a decade old involving the state's four historically black colleges.
Vernon Johnson, left, a sophomore at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, holds a sign at a rally in Annapolis, Maryland, with other students last November in support of efforts to settle a federal lawsuit that is more than a decade old involving the state's four historically black colleges. (Brian Witte/AP)

Speaker Adrienne A. Jones has entered the fray about how to settle a long-running court dispute with Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities over severe underfunding and the undermining of crucial academic programs.

She brings to the debate a powerful and much needed voice that could finally force a long overdue end to the 13-year lawsuit brought on behalf of alumni from Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Advertisement

A bill introduced by Ms. Jones would require Gov. Larry Hogan to spend $580 million over the next 10 years at the four institutions to create academic programs, expand scholarships and financial aid, better market the schools, recruit faculty and provide more academic support to students.

Mr. Hogan, who has presented a much lower — and what he calls “final” — offer of $200 million, needs to get on board with the speaker’s proposal and finally right the wrongs that have hurt the success of these colleges. It’s time Maryland stop wasting money on high-priced lawyers and other legal costs to fight institutions that are supposed to be an equal part of Maryland’s higher education system.

A spokesman for the governor said that Mr. Hogan is still “committed” to his offer and points out, again, that it is double the $100 million the governor originally proposed and much more than his successor was willing to pony up. But what he has put on the table is not enough to redress the harms done to the institutions. We agree with the Legislative Black Caucus, which identified HBCU funding as one of its priorities this General Assembly session, that it was a low-ball offer.

Ms. Jones’ proposal won’t cover all the costs to recover what the universities have lost over the years, but it is a compromise that could end the deadlock. In a more perfect world, the institutions would get at least as much as schools in Mississippi, which in a similar case were awarded about $500 million in 2002 — $791 million by today’s standards — to address discrimination and underfunding at three universities. Others have argued that Maryland’s HBCUs are entitled to even more, including former gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, who pushed for $1 billion for the schools.

Another reason to support the speaker’s bill is that it aligns with the $577 million settlement requested last year by The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, which represents the HBCU alumni in the lawsuit. The schools have shown they are willing to concede on issues to reach a deal, including what was at the heart of the lawsuit — the state’s funding of duplicate programs at white universities. The HBCUs once proposed transferring specific programs from white institutions to the their campuses, but said they will now focus on building up current programs and bringing new ones on board.

Mr. Hogan also should be willing to make difficult choices so that an agreement can be reached. Even President Donald Trump sees the importance of funding HBCUs. In December, he signed a bipartisan bill to permanently provide more than $250 million a year to the nation’s historically black colleges and universities and other schools that serve larger minority populations.

Maryland’s HBCUs have operated at a disadvantage for far too long. Despite operating at a deficit of resources, they have graduated alum who have gone on to became attorneys, doctors, engineers and politicians. If education is still one of the pillars of success in this country, the state ought to make sure all our universities are properly funded. The state’s HBCUs are also vital anchor institutions to our neighborhoods. The state teacher’s union, the Maryland State Education Association, has said these universities are an important pipeline for the creation of the next generation of teachers. The group is still analyzing Ms. Jones’ bill, but a representative said members are “optimistic that it presents a pathway to a fair and equitable resolution that supports the invaluable contributions HBCUs make to education and equity in our state.”

To be fair to Mr. Hogan, the governor wrote a letter to the speaker in the fall indicating openness to a legislative solution to the HBCU lawsuit. And his spokesman said the governor will thoughtfully consider any legislation that reaches his desk. We hope he’ll take a hard look before that point, however, and make the sound decision to support the bill, these schools and their students.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement