In a letter to Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, Hogan’s chief counsel Robert F. Scholz said the governor is prepared to make a “final” offer to resolve the case of up to $200 million in funds over a 10-year period beginning in fiscal 2021.
“A settlement on this basis would remove the very substantial litigation risk that the plaintiffs now face, and is more than what the plaintiffs would likely achieve even if successful someday at the end of the litigation,” Scholz wrote. “We ask for your leadership to help facilitate a practical, fair and just outcome."
Barnes, who weeks ago invited Hogan and other stakeholders to meet and go over the $577 million proposal, said he never received a response from the governor and was disappointed in his strategy.
“To say this is my final demand without having conversation and dialogue, at least with the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus … is not a move that shows good faith in the process,” Barnes said. “The number is extremely low.”
The delegate said the offer is well below the $1 billion estimates of what it would cost to bring parity to the state’s historically black institutions. Barnes also pointed out that the alumni coalition is asking for less than Mississippi paid when accounting for inflation, in a similar case, which was settled for more than $500 million in 2002.
The graduates from Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore sued Maryland in 2006 for underfunding and undermining the academic programs at those schools.
Maryland leaders have over the years acknowledged the state’s troubled history of segregation in higher education but have argued that increased financial support to the four universities has largely remedied the problem — sentiments echoed in the latest settlement offer.
“It is critical that any resolution of this case recognizes the significant strides made by the State of Maryland to remedy these historic inequities,” Scholz wrote. “Maryland has expanded the roles and missions of Maryland’s HBCUs, increasing both their operating and capital funding.”
Scholz said that over the past two decades, the state has invested more than $1.5 billion in its four historically black colleges. In addition, he said, Maryland is facing a $5 billion cash shortfall between fiscal 2021 and 2024 and has many “worthy demands” on available funds.
“The state’s offer of $200 million shows that it is still not serious about remedying a constitutional violation,” said Michael D. Jones, an attorney for the coalition. “In court, the question will be a constitutional one; what is necessary to remedy the violation. It will not be a political question of how one governor’s inadequate remedy compared to his predecessor’s inadequate offer.”
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.
Scholz said the state has taken “positive steps to address program duplication,” but then went on to diminish the importance of schools having academic specialties.
“School size and location are arguably more significant than specific program offerings, which are putatively at issue in the litigation,” Scholz wrote. “Robust out-of-state online competition made program duplication on geographically close campuses an increasingly less relevant concept in higher” education.
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.