ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP/WJZ) — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a measure to settle a 15-year-old federal lawsuit relating to underfunding at the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities for $577 million over a decade, the governor’s spokesman said Wednesday.

Hogan attended a bill signing Wednesday afternoon with lawmakers at Bowie State University.

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“This legislation passed unanimously, so it’s a great cooperation between us and republicans and democrats in the legislature,” the governor said.

Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a similar bill last year after citing economic difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers passed a new measure last week in a large bipartisan vote of support.

The measure will not begin payments until fiscal year 2023.

The measure’s provisions are contingent on a final settlement agreement June 1. Michael Jones, a leading attorney for the HBCUs, told The Associated Press last week he did not anticipate any problems reaching a settlement, once the settlement measure becomes law.

The lawsuit dating to 2006 alleged that the state had underfunded the institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly compete with and drain prospective students away from HBCUs.

In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system” that violated the Constitution. In 2019, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a fourth attempt at mediation, but the case has remained unresolved.

Maryland’s four historically black colleges are Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

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“We are taking the first step to right historic inequities in higher education in our state,” David Kwabena, President of Morgan State University, said.

Students said they were glad to hear about the funding, but wish it happened sooner.

“It was long overdue for this honestly,” Leshoun Taylor, a student, said.

“I was definitely in awe because it took so long,” Aliyah Lee, a student, told WJZ.

Students also said they’re now looking forward to seeing how their schools can continue to grow and be enhanced after the signing of this legislation.

“Bringing this funding to the school will just help us as students, just make us better,” Dejanee Ross said.

The funds in the settlement will be used for scholarships and financial aid support services, as well as faculty recruitment and development. The money also could be used to expand and improve existing academic programs, including online programs, as well as the development and implementation of new academic programs.

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Stetson Miller