Politics blog: Make higher ed the top funding priority, education leaders urge a day before Bobby Jindal’s budget recommendation



Higher ed leaders pen letter to Bobby Jindal day before he releases budget recommendation

The leaders of Louisiana’s college and university systems and the state commissioner of higher education have sent a joint letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal, urging the governor to look for ways to keep funding steady for higher ed in the coming year and long-term.

The state’s facing a $1.6 billion funding shortfall in the coming year, and early estimates are that it could translate to as much as a $500 million hit to state higher education funding in the coming year. Jindal’s administration will release his executive budget recommendation Friday.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue said in a Baton Rouge forum on Thursday that he believes the governor’s budget likely will include a $400 million hit to higher ed.

In their letter, the state’s top college and university leaders ask Jindal to make higher education the first priority for funding as options are being considered to adjust tax credits. They are requesting level funding, plus money the new WISE Fund, created just this year to enhance programs in high-demand fields, like engineering. That goal would take about $1 billion, the letter notes. The leaders also ask for more autonomy and flexibility for schools setting tuition and fees.

“We want to partner with you and our legislative leaders to craft both a short-term approach to address the immediate budget shortfall and offer long-term recommendations that fundamentally change the higher education funding model. In both instances, budget stability is the overarching goal,” they write.

The letter has been signed by Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo, LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander, University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley, Southern University System President Ron Mason and Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Monty Sullivan.

“We cannot lose the momentum that began last year to raise the level of educational attainment in Louisiana. The need for college graduates, particularly in high demand fields such as engineering, computer science, business and industrial trades, is fundamental to meeting workforce goals and ensuring Louisiana graduates are prepared to reap the economic benefits Louisiana has realized,” the leaders write.

The letter also was sent to House and Senate leaders and members each of the system boards, who are appointed by the governor.

Read the full letter here.