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Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates Darryl Barnes speaks during a HBCU rally on Nov. 13 in Annapolis. Photo by Zena Whitworth/The Prince George’s Sentinel.

ANNAPOLIS – Hundreds of students, faculty and supporters of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) gathered outside of the House of Delegates Building on Nov. 13 to demand state officials to end an over 13-year-old lawsuit over higher education funding.

Hundreds of people stood outside in Annapolis, demanding that Gov. Larry Hogan change his mind in settling a lawsuit that would help provide extra funding for the state’s HBCUs.

Organized by the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, the rally was a call for the state to take action but to inform state residents of the updates going on in the lawsuit.

“The state of Maryland has continued to give HBCUs a bad check; a check that is marked insufficient funds,” Del. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-44) said. “So, we call upon Gov. Hogan and the legislature to stop the foot-dragging and delay and act quickly to find the funds to rectify this long-festering injustice.”

The lawsuit, filed in 2006, claims that the state’s four HBCUs, Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, were underfunded by the state. The lawsuit also claims that white state universities are allowed to continue creating new programs and degrees that were already offered in the HBCUs, creating unfair competition.

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, who filed the suit for the four schools, claims that funding has not increased to match up the growing attendance of their schools.

The president of the coalition, David Burton, said the missing funds would allow the HBCUs to be more competitive with other state institutions.

The court ruled in 2018 that both parties should look to settle this problem together. Hogan originally proposed $100 million, then a “final offer” of $200 million on Sept. 26 to be spread out over the span of 10 years.

“It is critical that any resolution of this case recognize the significant strides made by the State of Maryland to remedy these historic inequities over the administrations of the last four governors working with their partners in the legislature,” Chief Legal Counsel for the Governor’s Office Robert F. Scholz said in a letter to the Black Caucus.

However, Del. Darryl Barnes (D-25), who is the caucus chair, called the offer “low and unacceptable.” Instead, Barnes, Sydnor and other members are proposing that the state should give the HBCUs at least $577 million by January if the lawsuit is not settled by then. There are 47 members in the House of Delegates and 12 in the State Senate, making them the largest Black Caucus in the United States, Barnes said.

“It takes 71 votes to get a vote passed, and we control our own narrative,” Barnes said. “So we wanted to send a message today, not only to Gov. Hogan but to those watching around the world that Maryland is going to lead the way, set the path. Not only did this lawsuit good for our HBCUs, but this is good for the state of Maryland.”

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said the amount of people at the rally sends a message to state Democrats and Republicans to push Hogan to settle the lawsuit in terms that benefit the local schools. She ended her remarks hoping that the crowd of people in attendance grabs the attention of Hogan, stating that “(She) hopes someone is listening.”

“This is the way to affect change when you see the numbers out here,” Jones said. “It does make a difference.”

Multiple speakers of local and national prominence spoke on the importance of HBCUs. Prince George’s County Public School Board of Education Chair Dr. Alvin Thornton, who was the president of the Morgan State University Faculty Association in 1975, said the state funding problems were noticeable then and worse now. He motivated the audience, demanding them to tell legislators to “not take anything else less for our babies, our children.”

“There is no Alvin Thornton without Morehouse or Howard,” Thornton said. “There is no Museum of African American History and Culture without historically black colleges. They should rename it the Museum of HBCUs. We will provide the resources for our babies and it will be more than just bricks and mortar.”

Kennera Goodman, president of University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Student Government Association, said that her and her classmates drove two hours to make it to the rally but was more tired of dealing with campus dynamics caused by the lack of funding. The schools are excelling and the state needs to provide the funding that matches their efforts, Goodman said.

“We still produce Black excellence,” Goodman said. “We still have high graduation rates, and our education has delivered a host of caring, supportive, and familial faculty despite the lack of funding.”

Barnes agreed with Goodman’s remarks, stating that it is time for the state to put the schools in equal footing with their fellow state colleges. Now, the ball is in the governor’s hands, Barnes said.

“Not only do we want to make sure that our TWI, our traditionally white institutions, have good schools, but we want to make sure that our predominantly black historical colleges and universities have the same thing,” Barnes said.

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