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Federal Court Debates Funding For Historically Black Colleges In Md.

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Does the state equally fund its historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominately white colleges? That's the question at the heart of a federal court battle.

Gigi Barnett has more.

Students from four of the state's historically black universities rally in front of the Garmatz Federal Court Building coming with a message.

"All we're asking for is equal funding." Brian Stewart, a student at Morgan State University, said.

Inside the courthouse, attorneys representing the universities are too. After six weeks of debate, closing arguments come on Friday.

Morgan, Bowie, Coppin State universities and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore are asking for a combined $1 billion. It's money they say the state never paid over the decades following desegregation, even though federal laws required it.

As a result, they say their campuses are filled with old buildings and competing for top-notch students is tough.

"If you have quality facilities with quality programs and a variety of unique and high demand programs, then students will come," Dr. Earl S. Richardson, the former president of Morgan State University, said.

During closing arguments, lead defense lawyer Craig Thompson, who represents the state, told the judge: "Maryland is making an effort to enhance historically black institutions. The state's failure to restructure the policy is not what this case is about. It's about the removal of segregation policy."

For students who attend the historically black colleges, their prayer is that a federal judge hear their plea.

"I would like to just see acknowledgement that HBCUs have not received equal opportunities," Shaquayah McKenzie, a Morgan State University student, said.

Historically black colleges say that with more cash, they will be able to attract non-African-American students to their universities. They have seen a decline in the number of Caucasian students over the years, and with that, they will be able to further desegregate their universities.

A decision in the case could take days, even weeks. The judge's verdict would also impact the funding of other historically black universities nationwide.

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