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A&M Students Sue State of Florida for Underfunding

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Students from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida and the Board of Governors under claims that the HBCU is being underfunded.

According to reports by CNN, the lawsuit, which was filed last week by six students, says that the lack of funds for the school violates the 14th amendment that guarantees equal rights to all U.S. citizens. 

Arguing that more money is given to the predominantly white universities in Florida like the University of Florida, the students also claim that the underfunding goes against a deal made with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in 1998 to address any racial inequities amongst colleges and universities. 

While the two universities should have the same amount of funding going towards them as land-grant universities, the lawsuit says that there’s a $1.3 billion gap in funds between them. In 2019, Florida A&M was given $110 million by the state, averaging $11,450 per student, while the University of Florida was given more than double, receiving $785 million and averaging almost $15,000 per student.

“Any state that is discriminating against historically Black colleges and universities by underfunding them should be on notice,” said the civil rights attorney in charge of defending the students, Joshua Dubin, per Forbes. “This is fair warning that if you’re going to have a college in your state, you’re going to treat them all the same. There should be no disparity, period, and we’re going to help bridge that gap.”

Throughout the lawsuit, the students point to previous instances where a lack of funding has caused issues. They claim that Florida A&M has been forced to shut down their buildings because of their inability to pay for repairs following damages from flooding, pest invasions and original building materials aging. 

The lack of housing buildings has also prevented many of the students from living on-campus and the HBCU’s football team has formally expressed frustration with the absence of support for their sport. 

According to the lawsuit, to pay for a new recreation center in 2020, Florida A&M had to ask for $33,000 in funding from the student government, adding to their growing $111 million facilities debt. 

The lawsuit also claims that the state of Florida approved degree programs at Florida State University that copied those offered at Florida A&M. As a result, Florida State University was successful in drawing students away from the HBCU in part because of the lack of funding for the school. 

As part of their demands, the students are now looking for a “mediator” that’ll take part in making sure that Florida A&M will get the same amount of money as other universities in the state’s funding plans. 

“Thirty years ago, the US Supreme Court held that Mississippi’s education system violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment – it remained for all intents and purposes segregated,” said Barbara Hart, a co-counsel of Dubin’s, in a statement. “Here we are well into the 21st century and Florida treats its HBCUs as Mississippi did then. This lawsuit isn’t about history, though – it’s about changing things here and now and for the future.” 

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