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Florida A&M University students sue state alleging historically Black college is underfunded

(CNN)Six students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University have filed a federal lawsuit against the state and the Board of Governors for the state’s university system that claims the historically Black college has been underfunded for decades is in violation of Title VI and the 14th amendment.

The proposed class action lawsuit, filed last week, alleges the state’s Board of Governors allocated less funding to FAMU compared to the predominately White universities in Florida.

In the lawsuit, the students accuse the state of failing to meet its obligations of a 1998 partnership agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights meant to rectify inequities in higher education. In part, it required officials to provide funding to “enhance the facilities of FAMU until there is parity” with traditionally White institutions.

Instead, the suit alleges the state restructured and downsized FAMU’s agriculture department and gave the majority-White University of Florida “primary control over many of the research, education, and extension services “in the state, which resulted in more funding going to the University of Florida.”

“The students feel very strongly about the way in which they are experiencing the underfunding,” said Barbara Hart, an attorney representing the students.

The Florida Board of Governors and the state of Florida, when reached by CNN, also declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the underfunding of FAMU has left the students with myriad of concerns such as with university housing. FAMU has been forced to close buildings due to issues such as flooding damage, pest issues and normal wear and tear, the suit claims. And funding to repair the school’s infrastructure was put on hold due to lack of funding, according to the lawsuit.

“It’s constantly been an issue of something going wrong, things breaking down, not being fixed properly,” said Fayerachel Peterson, a first-year graduate student at FAMU and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Bobby Brown, another attorney representing the students, said he sees stark physical differences between the campuses of FAMU and Florida State University.

“Being on Florida A&M’s campus and walking across the tracks seeing… where Florida State is, to feel the difference between that and to understand the historical ramifications across the tracks, I’m just really proud to be standing up with these students,” Brown said in an interview with CNN.

FAMU and FSU declined to comment on the lawsuit citing a policy that prohibits officials from commenting on pending litigation.

The lawsuit also accuses the Florida Board of Governors of failing to adhere to the partnership agreement, which allowed students from FAMU and Florida State University to complete part of the requirements of their degree at their home school and the remaining requirements at the sister institution. The lawsuit says the defendants say they did fulfill their end of the partnership.

According to the suit, provisions in the agreement were intended to help prevent duplication of academic offerings at the schools, but the plaintiffs allege that over the years similar degree programs were offered at both FAMU and FSU. Such duplication, the plaintiffs argue, “wastes and dilutes limited state resources when programs already exist to meet the demand and thereby reduces the economic efficiencies of the higher education system, undermines the State’s diversity and desegregation efforts, perpetuates segregation, impairs FAMU’s enhancement efforts, impairs FAMU’s enrollment growth, and discourages cooperation among institutions.”

Over the years, the plaintiffs allege, the state of Florida approved several degree programs at FSU that are a direct duplication of those offered at FAMU “without sound educational justification for such duplication, including approving a joint program in Engineering.” In addition, the plaintiffs say, due to the disparities in funding provided by the state to both schools, FAMU’s enrollment declined in the joint college program.

According to the complaint, the students are seeking a “special referee or mediator” be appointed to help develop a solution that ensures FAMU receives equitable funding.”

“These students are a part of something — part of a movement and they are unafraid to stand up and do what’s right,” Brown said.

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