Florida A&M Students Sue State, Claim Racial Bias Led to Lack of Funding

The class action lawsuit also alleges that the allowance of program duplication at nearby predominantly white institutions is negatively impacting FAMU's enrollment.

Published September 29, 2022

Edited by Evan Castillo
Florida A&M Students Sue State, Claim Racial Bias Led to Lack of Funding
HBCUs
Photo by Daniel A. Varela / Miami Herald / Tribune News Service / Getty Images

  • HBCUs across the U.S. have historically been underfunded by billions of dollars.
  • Between 2018 and 2021, FAMU received less combined state funds than UF received in a single year.
  • This lawsuit is the latest in a string of suits surrounding the underfunding of HBCUs across the country.

Six students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) are suing the state of Florida, alleging that it has consistently and purposefully participated in discriminatory funding practices against historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The class action suit states that these funding practices have "... prevented HBCUs, including FAMU, from achieving parity with their traditionally White institution ('TWI') counterparts."

The suit further alleges that the state's higher education officials have allowed predominantly white institutions near FAMU to duplicate programs the institution is known for, negatively impacting FAMU's enrollment figures.

Under federal law, FAMU's status as a land-grant institution entitles it to receive the same funding per student as all other land-grant institutions, like the University of Florida (UF), a predominantly white institution.

Yet, the lawsuit says, in 2019, FAMU received $110 million in state appropriations that resulted in $11,450 per student compared to the $785 million UF received, which amounted to $14,984 per student.

According to the lawsuit, there have been even larger gaps in performance-based funding awarded to the two institutions over the last four years.

In four years, FAMU received less combined performance-based funds ($98.8 million) than UF received in a single year during the same period.

FAMU has been unable to update school buildings, provide further student housing, and make quick and necessary repairs to campus dormitories in times of emergency due to underfunding, according to the lawsuit. Last month, the university temporarily shuttered one of its dorms due to significant pest and flood damage, leaving hundreds of students needing temporary housing a few weeks after the start of the school year.

The longtime underfunding of HBCUs has led to several lawsuits in states like Maryland and Tennessee over the last few decades. In April 2021, the state of Maryland finalized a $577 million settlement after a 15-year lawsuit related to the underfunding of four of the state's HBCUs.

A 2021 investigation in Tennessee found that the state's public HBCU, Tennessee State University, could be owed up to $544 million in funds dating back to the 1950s.

As the six FAMU students begin their fight against the state for equitable funding and opportunities, their lawyers demand that the state starts to close funding gaps between FAMU and predominantly white colleges within the next five years.