Maryland finalizes $577M settlement for HBCU federal lawsuit

Maryland has finalized a $577 million settlement to end a 15-year federal lawsuit relating to underfunding at the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities, state officials announced Wednesday.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office signed the agreement with attorneys for the plaintiffs to settle the case. Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year to set aside the money, and Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill last month.

“This settlement marks an historic investment in Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities," Attorney General Brian Frosh said. “It will enable these valued institutions to expand their academic reach and to assist thousands of students with getting the education they deserve.”

The lawsuit dating to 2006 accused Maryland of underfunding these institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly competed with them, draining away prospective students. In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system” that violated the Constitution.

“With today’s historic settlement of the HBCU litigation, we are finally able to move forward to give every college student in Maryland the chance to succeed," said Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, who sponsored the legislation.

The money will be paid over a decade for scholarships and financial aid support services, as well as faculty recruitment and development. Funds also can could be used to expand and improve existing academic programs, including online programs, as well as the development and implementation of new academic programs.

The money will be distributed each year based on each school’s share of the total enrollment during the preceding academic year at all four of Maryland’s HBCUs: Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

“After more than a decade and a half of litigation, and with multiple bills passed by the General Assembly, we can finally ensure that our HBCUs receive the equitable funding that they deserve," Senate President Bill Ferguson said.

The agreement was reached in cooperation with the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education and their attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis, and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under the Law, Frosh said.

Frosh said he expects to meet a June 11 deadline with federal courts to confirm the terms. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has strongly encouraged Maryland to settle, and Frosh said he's optimistic the terms would be accepted by the court.

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