Something Like the Truth

Louisiana’s state universities will soon be public in name only


By Robert Mann

Their months-long “search” for cuts to solve the state’s budget crisis is over and Louisiana’s House Republicans came up with nothing. Well, that’s not exactly right. They did dredge up some valuable-but-specious talking points to further their transformation of Louisiana public colleges and universities into publicly owned, privately funded institutions.

The so-called fiscal conservatives didn’t need specific budget cuts (or new revenue) once they had their talking points. Actually, calling them “talking points” is generous. What they tossed around was the dependable conservative propaganda that state government is bloated.

The only way to force bureaucrats to cut the fat, the reasoning goes, is to slash their budgets. Or, as some Republican leaders put it, the bureaucrats must find “efficiencies.”

Funny thing about such reasoning: Lawmakers proposed few “efficiencies,” certainly not enough to close the budget shortfall. Worse, their fervor for cuts has never applied to the House or Senate, which must be the most efficient state institutions ever.

While lawmakers slashed funding for higher education and health care during the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, legislative spending soared to $108.3 million in 2014-15 from $86.6 million in the 2008-09 budget – a 25 percent increase. (Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed a $17.6 million cut for the Legislature in his 2017 budget.)

The hypocrisy of all this “efficiencies” piffle bears repeating: Over the past eight years, lawmakers cut Louisiana’s higher education budget by hundreds of millions (in the last six years alone, legislators slashed 55 percent of LSU’s general fund appropriations) but increased their institution’s funding by a fourth.

The schools’ response to the severe budget cuts is well known. They laid off faculty and staff, killed degree programs and delayed maintenance and repairs. With legislators’ approval, they drastically increased tuition and fees.

Earlier this year there was even talk of shuttering some universities, including Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. The way things are going, some schools might disappear, but even that radical “efficiency” wouldn’t close the state’s $600 million budget shortfall. Nicholls gets a whopping $16 million in state appropriations, down from $36 million in 2008-09.

Nicholls, like the rest of the state’s universities, is well on its way to becoming a public institution in name only.

If you think slowly starving higher education bothers Republican leaders, you’d be wrong. In fact, it aligns nicely with their anti-education agenda and explains why so many of them went along with Jindal and continue doing his destructive work.

And while they claim they oppose tax increases, they very much favor imposing large tax increases on Louisiana families via higher tuition and fees. And they capped and then cut the state’s tuition assistance program (TOPS), making it ever harder for thousands of young people from low- and middle-income families to afford college.

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