Black students at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University are suing the state over alleged racial discrimination

Black students at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University are suing the state over allegations of racial discrimination, saying that local political leaders intentionally denied the historically black college equal financing with the University of Florida, a predominately white institution.

The class-action lawsuit filed in Florida federal court also alleges state higher education officials of copying academic programs Florida A&M (FAMU) is well-known for in an attempt to siphon student enrollment away from the school. The complaint names as plaintiffs six FAMU students and the Florida higher education system, including Chancellor Marshall Criss III.

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

The State University System of Florida and the office of Governor Ron DeSantis did not reply to a request for comment.

FAMU and the University of Florida are both land-grant universities, which, according to federal law, should get equal financing. The complaint asserts that state policymakers have established a $1.3 billion budget imbalance between UF and FAMU over the past three decades. FAMU received $98.4 million in state funds between 2018 and 2021, compared to $415.6 million for UF.

According to the lawsuit, FAMU has fallen behind on maintenance of its infrastructure, including as school buildings and student housing, due to inadequate funding. The university was obliged to temporarily close its 60,000-square-foot leisure complex until February of last year due to a $111 million facilities debt in 2020. Last month, the school also temporarily closed one of its dormitories because of flood damage and bug problems.

Britney Denton, a doctorate student at FAMU and the case’s plaintiff, said in a Thursday statement, “Our school has always made a little go a long way, but we shouldn’t have to.” “We are proud to be in Florida, and we want the state to be equally proud to support us and other HBCUs.”

According to specialists in higher education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) date back to the 1800s and have been underfunded for decades. They claim that politicians diverted billions of dollars in state money that should have gone to these institutions for other reasons. Since 1987, FAMU has been underfunded by $1.9 billion, according to a Forbes analysis, the second-largest imbalance behind North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University ($2.8 billion).

The refusal of state funding to HBCUs, according to their administrators, is mostly a result of antiquated prejudice. HBCU administrators told CBS MoneyWatch that state legislators, who generally control funding for higher education, have always seen such institutions as inferior. According to school administrators, this has prevented schools from giving more competitive pay for instructors and scholarships for top students.

One of the students’ attorneys, Josh Dubin, said in a statement, “This willful apathy toward HBCUs is not unique to Florida, but FAMU is where we’re starting the fight to ensure education is fair for everyone.”

Public HBCUs receive funding from both the state and federal governments. Congress allocates millions of dollars annually to each school based on enrollment, scholastic pursuits, and other indicators, and the school’s home state is required to match this money dollar-for-dollar.

For instance, if Alcorn State University received $50 million in federal money, Mississippi lawmakers are required to contribute an extra $50 million for a total of $100 million to the institution.

Yet, according to HBCU presidents and education experts, the so-called $1-for-$1 match rarely occurs in practice due to a decades-long refusal by state lawmakers to match the federal investment.

The FAMU lawsuit might be the beginning of recouping millions of dollars lost by the Tallahassee institution. Attorneys for FAMU students have demanded that the state provide the university with equal financing as UF within five years. HBCUs in Maryland and Tennessee are also attempting to recover millions of dollars in unclaimed state funding.

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