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Higher education, public school leaders make money pitch to key committee

Higher education, public school leaders make money pitch to key committee
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Stable state support is crucial for LSU to compete for Louisiana’s best students, school president F. King Alexander told a panel that controls the purse-strings Tuesday.

Alexander said that, after years of budget cuts, last year’s standstill budget helped spark a 40 percent increase in student applications.

LSU is losing top students to other states because of delays in funding decisions on the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, school presi…

“One year of stability has put us back on offense,” he said. “We just need you guys to help us create that stable environment.”

Alexander made his comments to the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which is writing its version of the state operating budget for colleges and universities, public schools and other services starting July 1.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, amid state budget problems, has offered a “doomsday” spending plan that would include especially deep cuts  for higher education and health care.

Edwards and his allies hope those cuts never happen, which depends on the governor and Legislature agreeing on a plan to address Louisiana’s roughly $700 million shortfall.

The five-hour hearing featured a parade of college and public school leaders, who described a wide range of problems stemming from 10 years of budget upheaval and its impact on students.

Alexander said the state has fallen from 12th nationally in spending per college student to 42nd.

Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo said state aid for higher education has slipped from about $1.5 billion in 2008-09 to $831 million now.

Louisiana has to step up its proficiency in science, math and engineering or it will be “run over” by the rest of the world, Commissioner of H…

At the same time, Rallo said, tuition has shot up from $721 million to $1.4 billion, a trend experienced in other states too.

“You see that transfer of responsibility of public higher education has moved from the state to the individual,” Rallo told the committee.

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said more money is needed for low-income students to attend school, including Go Grants.

The leaders of the Southern University and Louisiana Community and Technical College systems said Wednesday the state needs to spend more on n…

Sullivan said the average age of his 130,000 students is 27 years old, and many cannot afford school without financial assistance.

“Let me tell you, we better do something to make sure grown folks have access,” he told legislators.

The state is spending about $26 million on Go Grants and nearly $300 million for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

TOPS finances tuition for nearly 52,000 students who qualify academically.

Jim Henderson, president of the UL System, said several of his nine schools saw record enrollments when state aid for colleges and universities avoided reductions last year.

“The reason is simple,” Henderson said of the surge. “The market is demanding it.”

Henderson said that, after the 2008 recession, 2.8 million of the newly created 2.9 million jobs were filled by college graduates.

“That is going to continue to happen,” he said. “The nature of work is fundamentally changing.”

Alexander said TOPS and other assistance is crucial when top students are offered a $75,000 break on a $95,000 pricetag to attend the University of Alabama and other schools for four years.

State Superintendent of Education John White said 5,000 low-income families are on a waiting list for child care assistance.

That program, which used to serve about 40,000 families, has been reduced to less than 14,000 families amid repeated budget cuts.

White noted that teacher salaries are flat amid rising retirement obligations and other factors.

“We are at a point where we are at risk of being out-competed for talent,” he said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.



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