Georgia HBCU Alumni File Lawsuit, Accuse State and University System of Underfunding

Three HBCU alumni are suing the Georgia Board of Regents and the state of Georgia, seeking to gain funding for three public HBCUs. The lawsuit alleges funding disparities and discrimination against the HBCUs.
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Published on November 1, 2023
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  • The state of Georgia owes Fort Valley State University over $603 million, according to the federal government.
  • Alumni from Fort Valley State University, Savannah State University, and Albany State University are suing the state Board of Regents and the state of Georgia, alleging they have underfunded the schools.
  • Three state representatives are backing the lawsuit.
  • Students from Florida and Tennessee HBCUs are also taking steps to get the funding they say their schools missed out on over the past 30 years.

The fight for funding at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) continues with a new lawsuit against the Georgia Board of Regents for the State University System and the state of Georgia.

Three Georgia HBCU alumni are suing the board and the state, alleging they have underfunded Fort Valley State University (FVSU), Savannah State University (SSU), and Albany State University (ASU) for years.

Alumni Martrice Herrington, Marchea Herrington, and Reginald Hunter filed the lawsuit Oct. 24, alleging intentional discrimination against the HBCUs and violation of the 14th Amendment due to the underfunding. FVSU alone was underfunded by $603,156,480 in the past 30 years, according to the lawsuit.

"Separate but equal is not constitutional in the field of education. We're also suing under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin," one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, John Moore, told 11alive.com.

The news comes a month after the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent letters to 16 state governors saying their states owe a collective $12 billion to their HBCUs.

State Reps. Sandra Scott, Viola Davis, and Kim Schofield held a press conference announcing support for the Georgia HBCU alumni's lawsuit.

"Between fiscal years 2011 and 2022, Black land-grant universities alone lost nearly $200 million in resources because states declined to provide matching funds," said Scott in a press release. Meanwhile, she said, other land-grant universities were fully funded.

The lawsuit says publicly available data shows FVSU missed out on over $603 million in funding from Georgia from 1987-2020. In fiscal year 2007, the University of Georgia (UGA) received almost $350 million from the state. FVSU received almost $20 million; SSU received about $17 million, and ASU received about $20 million.

Georgia's HBCUs have smaller enrollment than its predominantly white institutions (PWIs), which should lead to a greater amount of funding per student, the lawsuit said. However, UGA received over $9,000 per student, and Augusta University received over $23,000 per student.

Meanwhile, FVSU received about $8,000 per student; SSU received over $6,000 per student, and ASU received about $4,000 per student from state funds.

"To Gov. (Brian) Kemp, to the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, 'Have you … ever held back resources from those who need it most?'" James Beverly, minority leader of the Georgia General Assembly, told 11alive.com.

HBCUs are 1890 land-grant Institutions entitled to the same funding as their PWI state counterparts yet, reports show, they have been historically underfunded since inception.

Tennessee State University (TSU) is owed the most at $2.1 billion, according to the ED and USDA. This month, student leaders from TSU met with attorney Ben Crump — who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin — to discuss getting those funds for the university.

Last year, six students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University sued the state of Florida for appropriate funding. The state of Florida owes FAMU over $1.9 billion, according to reports.