Maryland Lawmaker: Bills Considered To Resolve HBCU Case

If a federal lawsuit isn’t settled by January over program disparities between four historically black colleges and traditionally white colleges, Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation to resolve it themselves, one legislator said Friday.

Del. Charles Sydnor, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he is working with other lawmakers on proposals to settle the long running case for at least $577 million. That’s how much an attorney representing the HBCUs recommended earlier this year.

“At a minimum, that’s where I think we need to start,” Sydnor said at a news conference where he discussed plans for a rally next week in Annapolis to urge a fair resolution.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has offered to settle the lawsuit for $200 million over 10 years. That’s twice as much as he offered last year.

But critics of the offer say it’s woefully inadequate.

“If he sees fit not to settle this before the session begins, we’re grateful that we have the speaker of the House who has also said that she wants this case settled,” Sydnor said. “We will be working with our new Senate president to come up with some sort of legislative resolution to end this case.”

House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Democrat, has urged the governor to settle the case for $577 million. Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat and a former teacher, has been nominated by the Senate Democratic Caucus to succeed Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is stepping down from the leadership job due to an illness.

Hogan responded in a letter last month that he has a responsibility to protect the state budget, as Maryland faces the prospect of a national economic downturn. He wrote that lawmakers could seek more when the General Assembly convenes in January.

“As we approach the upcoming budget process, it is certainly within the purview of you and your colleagues to attempt to find ways to fund a settlement at the levels you are seeking,” Hogan wrote.

Maryland’s four historically black colleges are Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The case is more than a decade old. A coalition representing the HBCUs contended the state has underfunded the institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly compete with and drain prospective students away from the African-American schools.

In 2013, a federal judge recommended mediation after finding the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system,” and that its practices were in violation of the Constitution. U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake agreed with the coalition that the state allowed traditionally white schools to replicate those of historically black institutions, thus undermining the black schools’ success.

Earlier this year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a fourth attempt at mediation.

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