Federal officials say Georgia owes HBCU after years of unequitable funding

Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Georgia, is owed state funding due to historic funding disparities, according to a letter sent by federal officials to Gov. Brian Kemp. (Courtesy photo)

Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Georgia, is owed state funding due to historic funding disparities, according to a letter sent by federal officials to Gov. Brian Kemp. (Courtesy photo)

Federal officials are pushing Gov. Brian Kemp to invest more state dollars in Fort Valley State University, Georgia’s historically Black land-grant institution.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack sent Kemp and 15 other governors a letter Monday highlighting what they describe as “unequitable funding” of land-grant HBCUs.

The Georgia letter said that Fort Valley State, which enrolled just over 2,600 students last fall, would have received an additional $603 million from the state over the last three decades if its per-student funding was equal to that of the University of Georgia. UGA was designated as the state’s original land-grant school in 1872 but didn’t admit Black students until 1961.

“The longstanding and ongoing underinvestment in Fort Valley State University disadvantages the students, faculty, and community that the institution serves. Furthermore, it may contribute to a lack of economic activity that would ultimately benefit Georgia,” states the letter. “It is our hope that we can work together to make this institution whole after decades of being underfunded.”

Kemp’s office confirmed it received the letter.

“The governor has and will continue to support Georgia’s HBCU institutions and the contributions they are making to prepare the next generation to lead the economy of tomorrow,” said press secretary Garrison Douglas in a statement.

He referred comment on specifics of the letter to the University System of Georgia, which oversees 26 public colleges and universities including UGA and Fort Valley State.

The governor proposes an annual budget amount for the University System, which state lawmakers must approve. The University System then allocates the money to its schools.

The University System said it’s working to collect data and facts and then will respond to the letter.

The Education Department referenced its analysis that showed a more than $12 billion funding disparity between land-grant HBCUs and their non-HBCU land-grant peers in 16 mostly Southern states. Other states to receive the letter include Georgia’s neighbors – Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Land-grant universities, which historically taught agriculture and other career fields, were established under the Morrill Act of 1862, which gave federal land to states. But many of those schools did not admit Black students at the time, and in 1890, the Second Morrill Act required those states to end racial discrimination at land-grant schools or create another land-grant school for Black students. States “were required to provide an equitable distribution” of funds between the two schools, according to the Education Department.

The letter suggests making a substantial state allocation toward the deficit combined with a “forward-looking budget commitment” for the HBCU. Cardona and Vilsack’s letter acknowledged the funding issue “predates all of us,” but said strengthening Fort Valley State would boost “economic viability” and better support students.

Coming next week: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will have a series of guest columns on our Get Schooled blog exploring the successes, challenges and opportunities facing historically Black colleges and universities.

Read more about HBCUs from previous AJC articles

How a $90M HBCU investment is paying big dividends for Atlanta students

After Supreme Court ruling, Black college leaders look for support to improve facilities and research

Fort Valley State explores equity gaps in higher education

HBCUs come together to support Clark Atlanta students after flooding

Perilous times for Black Colleges: An AJC special report