Florida A&M students sue state, alleging racist underfunding

Florida A&M students sue state, alleging racist underfunding

Black students at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University are suing the state for alleged racial discrimination, claiming local political leaders deliberately denied the historically black college funding equal to that of 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 college programs for which Florida A&M (FAMU) is known in an effort to siphon off enrollment from the school. . The lawsuit names six FAMU students as plaintiffs and Florida’s higher education system, including Chancellor Marshall Criser III, as defendants.

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

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

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

Underfunding forced FAMU to fall behind in maintaining its facilities, such as school buildings and student accommodation, 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 until February of last year. Last month, the school also briefly closed one of its dormitories due to flood damage and pest problems.

“Our school has always come a little along the way, but we shouldn’t have to,” Britney Denton, an FAMU doctoral student and plaintiff in the case, said in a statement Thursday. “We are proud to be here and want Florida to be proud to support us and other HBCUs in the same way.”

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 diverted by lawmakers for other purposes. A Forbes investigation found FAMU had 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


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

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

Public HBCUs are funded by the states and federal government. Congress sets aside millions each year for each school, according to a formula based on enrollment, scholarly activity and other metrics and the state where the school resides is supposed to match this funding dollar for dollar.

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

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

The FAMU lawsuit marks what could be the start of the restitution of millions of dollars lost to the Tallahassee school. Lawyers representing FAMU students said they demand the state begin providing the university with equal funding to UF within five years. The Maryland and Tennessee HBCUs are also lobbying to recoup millions of dollars in state aid they never received.

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