Maryland lawmakers are urging Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to consider a $577 million settlement offer in a 13-year-old lawsuit over inequitable funding of the state’s historically black colleges and universities.

“It is my hope that Gov. Hogan looks at this as another landmark that he can put on his record before he is out of office, touting that he was the one governor to settle this HBCU lawsuit,” said Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.

Del. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) said: “The state is being offered a bargain, and the governor should seriously think about settling. This is his call.”

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Barnes and Sydnor are among the four elected officials who received the settlement proposal this week in a letter from the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education. The group, comprising alumni from Maryland’s four historically black institutions, is asking state lawmakers to help put an end to the litigation after several failed rounds of court-ordered mediation.

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Hogan has not taken a position on the $577 million offer, which attorneys for the coalition sent to lawmakers.

“It’s not a formal offer to the state. It’s a letter from a DC law firm,” Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said in an email.

The governor’s office said he has dedicated $1.2 billion in funding for Maryland’s historically black schools during his tenure and negotiated in good faith to reach an agreement with the coalition. In February 2018, Hogan said he would spend up to $100 million over a 10-year period to resolve the lawsuit.

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While that figure exceeds earlier offers, it is well below the $1 billion to $2 billion estimates of what it would cost to bring parity to the state’s historically black institutions. Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) said even the coalition’s latest offer falls short of what the schools are owed, but said at least it’s a start.

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“We should move on the offer, but I don’t think this should be the conclusion,” Walker said.

The coalition of graduates from Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore claim that Maryland has underfunded and undermined the academic programs at those schools. They say the state has impeded enrollment at the schools by letting other state colleges duplicate programs that once attracted a diverse student body to the historically black colleges and universities.

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Traditionally white public universities in Maryland have 122 academic programs not duplicated elsewhere in the state system, while historically black schools count only 11 such offerings.

The alumni coalition has argued that their schools are placed at a disadvantage when their most distinctive offerings are duplicated, especially when the schools they compete with have more money and newer facilities. They say that introducing more academic programs that are in high demand would enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of the four schools.

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A federal judge in 2017 ordered Maryland to end the disparity by establishing a set of unique programs at each school and providing additional funding for marketing and scholarships. The state appealed the decision and was ordered into mediation that ended in July without a resolution.

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Maryland is one of several states that have faced a reckoning for disparities in public higher education. Alabama in 2006 agreed to pay $600 million toward a 30-year campus renovation plan for its two historically black public institutions. Four years earlier, a U.S. district court ordered Mississippi to spend more than $500 million on its three historically black colleges.

Michael D. Jones, an attorney for the coalition, said the alumni are asking for less than Mississippi paid, when accounting for inflation. He said that in Mississippi, the leadership of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) brought the litigation there to a resolution, and he hopes Maryland’s policymakers can play a similar role.

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“We want to bring the legislature into the process,” Jones said. “This is not a partisan issue. This is a constitutional violation that accumulated under both Democratic and Republican administrations.”

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Barnes said he sent a letter Thursday inviting Jones, Hogan and the speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates, Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), to meet and go over the $577 million proposal.

“We’re hoping some action takes place and they respond with a date and time in which we can all sit down and figure this thing out,” Barnes said.

The lawsuit is rooted in a 2005 decision by the Maryland Higher Education Commission to approve a joint MBA program between the University of Baltimore and Towson University. Morgan State officials said the agreement would divert white students from its MBA program. Morgan State had recorded steady enrollment of white students in its program before the University of Baltimore started its own in the 1970s. Although the joint degree was scrapped, the case continued.

Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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