Four historically Black universities and colleges in Maryland will benefit from a $577 million settlement related to a federal lawsuit first brought against the state 15 years ago—that is if Gov. Larry Hogan doesn’t veto the settlement agreement again.
Maryland’s state legislators voted on Wednesday to approve a measure to pay out the settlement to Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore over the next 10 years, reports AP.
“The Maryland state legislature today took a significant step toward addressing historic inequities in Maryland higher education,” said Morgan State University President David Wilson of Wednesday’s vote.
The state’s General Assembly passed a similar measure last year—with unanimous approval from the senate—but Hogan vetoed it on the basis that Maryland’s coffers were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s the background on the lawsuit from AP:
The lawsuit dating to 2006 alleged that the state had underfunded the institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly compete with and drain prospective students away from HBCUs.
In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system” that violated the Constitution.
In 2019, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a fourth attempt at mediation, but the case has remained unresolved. In February 2018, Hogan had proposed a $100 million settlement to be allocated over a 10-year period, but the plaintiffs rejected this proposal and offered to settle the case for $577 million to be “spread over a reasonable time period.” The Republican governor later offered $200 million to settle the case.
The pro bono legal work was done by Kirkland & Ellis and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Under the measure passed this week, payments to the schools would begin in the fiscal year of 2023. The settlement agreement is expected to be finalized by June 1 of this year, and a lawyer representing the schools in the case says it is one of the biggest civil rights settlements of its kind in history.
“It is the only case of its kind that had a settlement that went around the governor and directly to the legislators,” Michael Jones, lead counsel for The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, told AP. “I don’t anticipate any problems at all, once it becomes law.”
The funds in the settlement would be used for scholarships and financial aid for students, recruiting faculty, expanding academic programs and implementing new ones—including programs online. Unused dollars would be put in an HBCU Reserve Fund at the end of each fiscal year.
A spokesperson for Hogan said he will “carefully review the legislation when it comes to his desk.”