Florida A&M Students Sue State for Underfunding

Jeanne A. Curley

A group of students at Florida A&M University has brought a class action lawsuit against the state of Florida for shortchanging the historically Black university for more than three decades. The complaint, filed Thursday in a Florida district court, accuses the state of engaging in racial discrimination by chronically underfunding HBCUs relative to predominantly white institutions. It also calls on the state to rectify the disparity within five years.

“Our school has always made a little go a long way, but we shouldn’t have to,” plaintiff Britney Denton, a first-year doctoral student in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Studies at Florida A&M, said in a press release. “We’re proud to be here, and we want Florida to be proud to support us, and other HBCUs, equally.”

The suit was filed on behalf of six undergraduate and graduate students by civil rights attorney Joshua Dubin and the law firm Grant & Eisenhofer. Their complaint alleges that the state’s other public land-grant university, the University of Florida, has been receiving larger state appropriations per student than Florida A&M, resulting in a $1.3 billion shortfall from 1987 to 2020. The complaint also says the state allowed and supported programs at Florida State University that duplicate offerings at Florida A&M, which contributes to a “racially segregated system of higher education.”

This isn’t the first time Florida has been asked to reform its higher education system to make it more equitable, according to the complaint. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights previously called on the state to improve access to K-12 and higher education for minority students through a five-year partnership agreement signed in 1998. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that the state failed to meet its obligations under the agreement, despite issuing a report saying it was in compliance.

Dubin said the state has “acted with an astonishing lack of good faith, despite decades of directives from the federal government that all students in the state receive equal educational opportunities.”

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