Higher education leaders in New Orleans agree that the $143 million cuts to state colleges and universities proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal would hurt local schools. At the same time, they expressed relief that the proposed reductions are far less than the $300 million figure floated in recent weeks.
The state faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, and higher education is one of the areas most susceptible to cuts. But according to Jindal chief of staff Kyle Plotkin, the administration is trying to maintain existing funding levels for higher ed by scaling back spending on tax credits.
To further minimize the reductions, the governor proposed putting $30 million in hurricane relief funds toward the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund. The fund, one of Jindal’s major initiatives in 2014, provides financing to train students for high-demand jobs.
Jindal also wants to steer $34 million to the TOPS scholarship program, which pays tuition for thousands of Louisiana residents to attend in-state colleges each year. And while the administration proposed raising student fees, Jindal said he intends to offer a tax credit to students and families who pay for them.
Joan Davis, president of Delgado Community College, said Delgado will not know the size of its 2014 appropriation until next week, when the Louisiana Community and Technical Community System will meet to discuss the proposed cuts.
“Any cuts are painful and cause us to have to consider how we’ll be impacted,” Davis said. “But I’m happy to hear they’re not as big as everyone thought they might be.”
University of Louisiana System President Sandra K. Woodley, in a statement, said UL System administrators are still digesting the options laid out in the governor’s budget plan and examining ways that it might maintain current funding levels.
“We are encouraged by the administration’s willingness to identify revenue options that could alleviate budget reductions to higher education,” Woodley said. “This is the starting point of a long process of working with the administration and legislators, as most of the revenue proposals are contingent upon legislative action.”
Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said in a statement that he is encouraged by the options the budget proposal presented to minimize the impacts to higher education.
“I am optimistic that collectively the administration, the legislature, and the higher education leadership will find budget solutions that work for the citizens of Louisiana,” he said.
University of New Orleans President Peter Fos was equally optimistic. In a phone interview Friday afternoon, he noted that Jindal has given the legislature the ability to further mitigate the cuts.
“His executive budget shows that he doesn’t want higher education to receive any more cuts,” he said.
Fos cautioned that the legislature might not be able to reduce the budget beyond the proposed $143 million amount. The Louisiana Board of Regents will meet early next week to determine what percentage of the proposed cuts will be allocated to UNO and other public institutions in the state.
In the coming months, Fos said, University of Louisiana System heads plan to work with local business leaders to help the legislature bring the cuts down to zero.
Stay with NOLA.com for more details.