Local Universities Threaten Legal Action Over Lack Of State Funding

Brett Blume
April 30, 2018 - 11:45 am

(KMOX/Brett Blume)


ST. LOUIS (KMOX) -  A pair of local Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are ramping up the pressure on Jefferson City to kick in more state funding.


Telayah Richards, president of the Harris-Stowe State University chapter of the NAACP, spoke at a morning press conference and said underfunding is putting a strain on the faculty and staff, as well as on the upkeep of the campuses at both Harris-Stowe and Lincoln Universities.


"We further believe that the state's educational policies are unconsitiutional and violate the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause," she announced, "because they deprive its two HBCUs of academic programs that are unique, high demand and high quality."


Her backers say the underfunding, along with allowing other state schools to duplicate their programs and place pressure on HBCU enrollment, reflects a "shameful history of the de jure segregation" and the "practicies of unnecessary program duplication" that have had harmful effects at both schools.


St. Louis NAACP president Adolphus Pruitt spoke during the press conference and said Harris-Stowe and Lincoln are "doing the heavy lifting" when it comes to educating minority students.


"It is systematic, it's been going on a long time," he said. "You look at all of the campuses in the state sytem, then look at these two campuses, and you can clearly see that there is some disparity as relates to dollars that are invested in the infrastructure."


Pruitt pointed out the two schools enroll nearly 20% of the state's entire black undergraduate population in the public four-year sector, and that data shows colleges enrolling the highest share of black students tend to have the smallest budgetary growth.


He added that a pair of bills sponsored in Jefferson City by Democratic State Representatives Karla May and Courtney Allen Curtis to address the discrepancy are being largely ignored to this point, meaning they may have to take the state of Missouri to court over the matter.


"It is not our hope (to sue the state)," Pruitt explained. "But then again after 30 years of litigation over the St. Louis Public School system against the state we won the desegregation case there, and that cost the state at the end of the day one-point-five billion dollars."


Telayah Richards announced the formation of something called the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education, which will seek "to achieve education equity for Harris-Stowe State University and Lincoln University", adding that the coalition will fight the marginalization of HBCUs.


"Like the great Nelson Mandela once said, 'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world'," she said.