Florida A&M students sue state, alleging racially biased lack of funding

Florida A&M students sue state, alleging racially biased lack of funding

Black students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University are suing the state for alleged racial profiling, alleging that local political leaders deliberately denied the historically black college equal funding with the University of Florida, a predominantly white school.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in a Florida federal court, also accuses state higher education officials of duplicating the academic programs Florida A&M (FAMU) is known for in an attempt to divert school enrollments. The lawsuit names six FAMU students as plaintiffs and the Florida higher education system, including Chancellor Marshall Criser III, as defendants.

“Throughout its history and to the present day, Florida has purposefully engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination, primarily through disparate funding, that has prevented HBCUs, including the FAMU, from achieving parity with their traditionally white counterparts. ”, the complaint alleges.

Neither the State University System of Florida nor the office of Governor Ron DeSantis responded to a request for comment.

The process is noteworthy because FAMU and the U. of Florida are both land grant universities, which under federal law must receive equal funding. Over the past 30 years, however, state leaders have created a $1.3 billion funding gap between the UF and FAMU, the lawsuit claims. Between 2018 and 2021, FAMU received $98.4 million in state aid, compared to $415.6 million for the UF.

Underfunding forced FAMU to lag behind in maintaining its facilities, such as school buildings and student housing, according to the lawsuit. A 2020 facility debt of $111 million forced the university to temporarily close its 60,000-square-foot recreation center until February last year. Last month, the school also briefly closed one of its dormitories due to flood damage and pest problems.

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“Our school has always made some progress, but we shouldn’t,” Britney Denton, a FAMU doctoral student and author of the case, said in a statement Thursday. “We are proud to be here and we want Florida to be proud to support us and other HBCUs alike.”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, date back to the 1800s and have been underfunded for decades, according to higher education experts. Billions of dollars in state aid that they say should have gone to these schools have been siphoned off by lawmakers for other purposes. A Forbes investigation found that FAMU has been underfunded by $1.9 billion since 1987, the second largest disparity behind North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University at $2.8 billion.


Historically Black Colleges React After Decades of Underfunding

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HBCU leaders say the denial of state funding for its colleges largely comes down to old-school racism. State lawmakers, who largely control funding for higher education, have long considered these institutions inferior, HBCU officials told CBS MoneyWatch. This has restricted schools from offering more competitive salaries to teachers and scholarships to the best students, school officials said.

“This deliberate disregard for HBCUs is not unique to Florida, but FAMU is where we are joining the fight to ensure that education is fair for all,” one of the students’ attorneys, Josh Dubin, said in a statement.

Public HBCUs are funded by the states and the federal government. Congress sets aside millions annually for each school, depending on a formula based on enrollment, academic activities, and other metrics, and the state where the school resides must match that funding dollar for dollar.

For example, if Alcorn State University received $50 million in federal aid, then Mississippi state legislators must contribute an additional $50 million for a total of $100 million for the school.

However, HBCU presidents and education experts said the so-called $1-$1 match rarely happens in practice, pointing to a general refusal by state lawmakers over many years to match federal investment.

The FAMU lawsuit marks what could be the beginning of restoring millions of lost dollars to the Tallahassee school. Lawyers representing FAMU students said they require the state to begin giving the university funding equal to UF within five years. HBCUs in Maryland and Tennessee are also pushing to recover millions of dollars in state aid never received.

Source : www.cbsnews.com

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