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Maryland Gov. Hogan signs bill sending $577 million to state’s historically Black universities

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — who previously said $200 million was sufficient to settle a lawsuit involving the state’s historically Black universities — put his signature Wednesday on a law that will spend nearly triple that amount on the schools.

With the presidents of the state’s four historically Black colleges peering over his shoulder during a ceremony at Bowie State University, Hogan’s action marked the opening of a final chapter in a 15-year-legal journey.

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Alumni and boosters of the universities — Bowie State in Prince George’s County, Coppin State and Morgan State in Baltimore and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, in Somerset County — had challenged the state’s treatment of the schools in federal court. They alleged the historically Black schools were put at a disadvantage compared to predominantly white institutions.

The law will lead to a settlement of that lawsuit and guarantee $577 million in additional funding for the schools over the course of a decade. House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, both Democrats, joined the governor in putting pen to paper on the bill.

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Jones, the first woman and person of color to serve as a presiding officer in the General Assembly, was one of the legislation’s chief sponsors for two consecutive years. She said she was proud to sign the bill as a mother and sister of graduates from historically Black colleges and universities.

“We finally got to this day,” she said to a round of applause.

House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones speaks as state Senate President Bill Ferguson and Gov. Larry Hogan listen at a bill-signing ceremony at Bowie State University.
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones speaks as state Senate President Bill Ferguson and Gov. Larry Hogan listen at a bill-signing ceremony at Bowie State University. (Ulysses Muñoz)

“I’m pleased to see this fight has finally come to an end,” Morgan State President David Wilson said after the ceremony.

It was Morgan alumni who initiated the lawsuit and who were among its fiercest advocates.

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Just as important as the money, Wilson said, is the recognition that the historically Black schools provide a key role in educating people of color in Maryland.

“Morgan and our other HBCUs have been pulling the weight in this state in terms of creating a Black middle class and we have been doing it without due respect,” Wilson said. “So, the money is great. We need that, but respect, as well.”

The Republican governor cast the bill-signing ceremony as a celebration of “a historic bipartisan measure.”

The moment arrived after years of pushing from advocates and a progressive legislature that refused to settle for less than the $577 million they sought, spurning Hogan’s “final offer” two years ago of $200 million.

When asked by reporters why he now supported almost triple the amount of spending to settle the lawsuit, Hogan criticized his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, for not settling the case during his tenure. Hogan took office in 2015.

Hogan took partial credit for the legislation, which directs the state to settle the lawsuit and puts the required funding into law. A year ago, he vetoed a nearly identical bill, citing uncertain finances due to the coronavirus pandemic that, at the time, was just beginning to spread across Maryland.

“It was a great cooperation between us and the Republicans and the Democrats in the legislature,” Hogan said.

The legislation was so important to Democratic leaders of the General Assembly that they granted it the symbolic designations of “House Bill 1” and “Senate Bill 1” in this legislative session.

The bill will send an influx of $57.7 million in extra funding each year for 10 years, starting in 2023, to be divided up by the state’s four historically Black universities. It will go toward creating new academic programs and enhancing existing ones, bolstering online offerings, boosting financial aid, marketing the schools, and recruiting and training faculty.

Kortney Wells, Bowie State’s student government president, said she sees needs for improvement in student services, such as sports teams, residential living and health and wellness. And she thinks the money could be used to expand a new Bowie State program in digital animation.

“It’s definitely a blessing for us to be recognized on a grander scale, as far as funding, so we can properly produce from our programs, properly allow our students to produce their talents,” said Wells, a 21-year-old senior criminal justice major who graduated from Lansdowne High School in Baltimore County.

The signing of the bill also means that a legal journey that began in 2006 will enter its final phase.

Standing behind Gov. Larry Hogan at Bowie State University are (l to r) Heidi M. Anderson, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, president; Aminta Hawkins Breaux, Bowie State University president; David Wilson, Morgan State University president, and Anthony L. Jenkins, Coppin State University president.
Standing behind Gov. Larry Hogan at Bowie State University are (l to r) Heidi M. Anderson, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, president; Aminta Hawkins Breaux, Bowie State University president; David Wilson, Morgan State University president, and Anthony L. Jenkins, Coppin State University president. (Ulysses Muñoz)

Back then, a group of Morgan State alumni who were frustrated by a lack of state funding for and focus on their alma mater formed a coalition and filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s treatment of the HBCUs.

Eventually, a federal judge found the state had inappropriately allowed predominantly white universities to copy specialty academic programs at the Black institutions, siphoning away students of all races and effectively resegregating the historically Black schools.

The courts urged the state and the HBCU coalition into mediation, but negotiations repeatedly failed. In 2018, Hogan offered $100 million, and then in 2019, said that $200 million was the state’s final offer.

The HBCU coalition insisted on $577 million. Its members turned to like-minded state lawmakers, who passed a bill in 2020 to require the state to settle the case for the coalition’s figure of $577 million, spread out over 10 years.

After Hogan’s veto in May, lawmakers came to Annapolis in January pledging to pass a bill again.

The Senate votes were unanimous, and the House of Delegates votes were by wide, bipartisan margins — sufficient to easily overturn any potential veto from the governor. Lawmakers also took care to send the bills to Hogan early enough in the legislative session that they could vote this year, if necessary, to override a veto.

The law directs the state’s attorney general to settle the case, and lawyers say the settlement is just a matter of paperwork at this point.

Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh was pleased the settlement can move forward.

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“It’s about time,” he said.

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Frosh’s office represented the state in the case, but it was up to the governor’s office to make financial decisions, such as how much to offer to settle.

“The big sticking point was how much the state would pay,” Frosh said. “I’m glad it’s over because I think it’s a win for the state and it’s a win for the HBCUs.”

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