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Judge Hears Case Over Md. Funding Of Black Schools

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Attorneys arguing that Maryland’s history of racially-segregated higher education is ongoing used decades-old state reports to try to make their point as a federal trial began.

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education alleges that practices carried over from the days of segregation at the state’s higher education commission put historically black schools at a competitive disadvantage. The coalition said there is unnecessary duplication of specialized programs offered at historically black schools, as well as funding disparities.

Maryland has appointed blue ribbon commission after blue ribbon commission to get its historically black colleges and universities “out of the hole Maryland’s policies have put them in,” attorney Michael Jones said in his opening statements.

Jones presented a series of state reports dating to the 1930s, detailing inferior funding and in many cases calling for improved funding. The reports also detail remedies including expanding offerings and creating programs that are not offered at other schools to help attract more students of all races, steps similar to those sought by the plaintiffs.

“Maryland really has no defenses in this case,” Jones said.

Attorney Craig Thompson, representing the state of Maryland, told U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake that “it is students, not institutions, that have rights under the Constitution.” He repeatedly said past practices and policies that led to a segregated education system are no longer in place.

The attorney said while the state tries to avoid duplication in higher education, prior court rulings allow duplication where there is sound educational justification.

Thompson said the case was about context, change and choice, noting that the state’s higher education system has changed since the days of segregated education and students can now choose which school they wish to attend. The attorney ticked off enrollment figures at the state’s traditionally white universities showing the number of minority students at each had increased since the 1980s.

The evidence will show “no state actions are limiting student choice,” Thompson said.

The plaintiffs called two witnesses later Tuesday, a doctoral student at Morgan State University, one of the state’s four historically black institutions, and the school’s president, Dr. David Wilson. The university president told Blake that Morgan State has a dual mission to not only conduct research and educate graduate students, but provide access to higher education for lower-income students. Wilson said 25 percent of tuition collected by the school goes to financial aid and 90 percent of its 8,100 students receive financial aid.

Wilson said 3 percent of the school’s students are white, many of whom attend Morgan State’s architecture school, which he said provides a degree in demand by students statewide. However, he said the university’s maintenance budget is “woefully inadequate” and millions of dollars in equipment are needed campus-wide.

Blake ruled last year that the coalition failed to show inequity in the state’s capital funding formula and discrimination against a particular school.

The historically black institutions are seeking expanded and unique missions so they will “be attractive to students of all races,” plaintiffs attorney Jon Greenbaum said before arguments began.

“Right now, HBI programming is largely duplicated” at traditionally white institutions, Greenbaum said. “Historically black colleges are now more segregated than they were in the 1970s. All the trends are going in the wrong direction.”

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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