Florida A&M students sue state, alleging racially skewed funding gap

Florida A&M students sue state, alleging racially skewed funding gap

Black students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University are suing the state for alleged racial discrimination, alleging that local political leaders have deliberately denied the historically black university the same funding as the University of Florida, a predominantly white school.

The class action lawsuit, filed in Florida federal court, also accuses state higher education officials of duplicating the academic programs that Florida A&M (FAMU) is known for in an attempt to siphon off enrollment from the school. 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 this day, Florida has deliberately engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination, primarily through disparate funding, that has prevented HBCUs, including FAMU, from achieving parity.” with their counterparts in traditionally white institutions,” the complaint says. alleges

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

The lawsuit is noteworthy because FAMU and the U. of Florida are land-grant universities, which under federal law should receive equal funding. However, over the past 30 years, state leaders have created a $1.3 billion funding gap between UF and FAMU, the suit alleges. Between 2018 and 2021, FAMU received $98.4 million in state aid, compared to $415.6 million from the UF.

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

“Our school has always made a little bit go a long way, but we shouldn’t have to,” Britney Denton, a FAMU doctoral student and plaintiff in the case, said in a statement Thursday. “We’re 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. Lawmakers have diverted billions of dollars in state aid that they say should have gone to those schools 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 fight back after decades of underfunding

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HBCU leaders say the denial of state funding to their universities is largely due to old-school racism. State lawmakers, who largely control higher education funding, have long viewed these institutions as inferior, HBCU officials told CBS MoneyWatch. That has limited schools to offering more competitive salaries for teachers and scholarships for top students, school officials said.

“This willful disregard for HBCUs is not unique to Florida, but FAMU is where we are joining the fight to ensure 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, based on a formula based on enrollment, academics and other metrics, with the school’s home state supposed to match that funding dollar-for-dollar.

For example, if Alcorn State University received $50 million in federal aid, Mississippi state legislators are supposed to put up an additional $50 million for a total of $100 million for the school.

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

FAMU’s lawsuit marks what could be the beginning of the restoration of millions of dollars lost to the Tallahassee school. Lawyers representing FAMU students said they are demanding that the state begin giving the university the same funding as UF within five years. HBCUs in Maryland and Tennessee are also lobbying to claim millions of dollars in state aid they never received.

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