By Layne Litsinger
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Historically black colleges and universities in Maryland would receive up to $56.9 million annually under legislation, sponsors say, that would restore years of underfunding and program duplication by the state but is unlikely to pass.
Proponents of the measure have rejected, as too little, a Feb. 7 offer from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of a total of $100 million over the next 10 years to a coalition of historically black colleges and universities.
A group of alumni in 2006 sued the state for creating programs at other public institutions that copied and drew students away from similar programs at Maryland’s historically black schools, such as an accelerated MBA program at Morgan State University and a master’s in computer science at Bowie State University.
Efforts to mediate have failed.
In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake ruled that Maryland violated the constitutional rights of students at the state’s four black institutions by duplicating their programs at traditionally white schools.
In 2015, Blake proposed that the state establish high-demand programs at the four historically black institutions to attract more diverse students and help with desegregation.
In 2016, mediation between the state and the coalition failed. In 2017, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, and Hogan appealed the 2013 decision.
Del. Nick Mosby (D-Baltimore) said this amount is nowhere near enough for the amount of funding needed for these schools.
The state’s $100 million offer “basically equates to about $2.5 million per institution for the next 10 years and unfortunately that is throwing peanuts at a very gigantic problem,” said Mosby, who is sponsoring the House legislation.
Senate bill sponsor Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) told Capital News Service this would not be acceptable, because the state owes historically black institutions around $2.5 billion to $3 billion.
Conway also said if the amount had been offered as a lump sum of $100 million, then that could change the situation, but spread over time, the amount seems unjust.
A pair of matched bills was introduced in the Senate on Jan. 30 and in the House on Feb. 8 but no progress has been made since then. Conway is sponsoring Senate bill 252 and Mosby is sponsoring House bill 450.
Similar legislation has been introduced in years past, but was not approved.
Conway also introduced Senate bill 827, paired with a bill from Del. Charles Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), House bill 1062–emergency legislation to appoint a special adviser who would develop a remedial plan based on the lawsuit against the state.
Del. Michael Jackson (D-Calvert and Prince George’s counties) with House bill 1819 and Sen. Barbara Robinson (D-Baltimore) with Senate bill 615, also introduced paired legislation to establish a cybersecurity program at Coppin State and Morgan State that could not be duplicated by other institutions in the state.
Both bills continue to work their way through the legislative session.
Altogether, these bills would require the state to ensure funding and equity so that the four historically black institutions–Bowie State University, Morgan State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore–are “comparable and competitive” to what are known as the state’s public “traditionally white institutions.”
The Rev. Kobi Little, chairman of the Political Action Committee for the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, who spoke at the Feb. 8 hearing, said progress in education equity is needed.
“We see this as an education issue but also as an economic justice issue,” Little told lawmakers. “This, my friends, is one of your Martin Luther King moments. It is an opportunity for you to do the right thing.”
Conway said she doubted the bills would make progress in the General Assembly.
“This legislature has never been one to do the correct thing for these schools,” Conway told Capital News Service.
Morgan State President David Wilson, who testified at the Senate bill hearing on Jan. 30, said students’ ability to pay is a big issue at his school.
“Lack of financial aid is the greatest barrier to getting students across the finish line in record time,” said Wilson. “Financial aid would alleviate the barrier of students who simply don’t have the money to keep going in college.”
Wilson told Capital News Service that at Morgan State, 90 percent of students receive financial aid and 56 percent qualify for the Pell Grant, a government subsidy that helps students pay for college.
He also said that 36 percent receive the maximum amount from the Pell Grant, which means that families can’t contribute anything to their child’s education.
Wilson also said many students maintain a recurring cycle of dropping out of school to work a semester and then coming back to continue their degree.
Students like Ryan Washington, a senior at Bowie State, told Capital News Service that more money donated to historically black colleges and universities would help students to pursue careers–especially ones that don’t have the same resources as traditionally white institutions.
“More programs, more development on campus and more buildings offering more experience to students,” Washington said.
If the funding legislation passes, schools’ payments would start at $4.9 million for the 2019 fiscal year and increase annually. By the 2022 fiscal year, the four historically black institutions would receive a total of $56.9 million each year. This bill would also establish certain student and faculty ratios.
Former NAACP Political Action Chair Marvin Cheatham Sr. said he is doing everything he can to help pass the bill.
“This has to do with what is in the best interest for students,” he told Capital News Service.
Cheatham also said in his testimony on Feb. 8 that “$100 million doesn’t come close to what’s needed for HBIs.”
“I’ll never, ever stop filing it until it’s rectified,” said Conway, who named the legislation The Blount-Rawlings-Britt HBI Comparability Program Bill in honor of its original creators, former lawmakers Sen. Clarence Blount (D-Baltimore), Del. Pete Rawlings (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Gwendolyn Britt (D-Prince George’s County) who are all deceased.
“I intend to file it every year (until) we fix it.”
Hogan’s office declined to comment outside of his Feb. 7 letter, citing the pending legal matter, a representative told Capital News Service on Friday.
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