Dear Northshore College Students and Parents,
I’m addressing both students and parents because while a relatively small but articulate group of our state college students, many of them from Southeastern Louisiana University and as organized by a Southeastern student leader, bravely went to the Capitol last week to address our legislature, unfortunately parents are the ones our legislators are more likely to listen to instead because Votes.
Several of our students also seized the opportunity to address legislators in the Appropriations Committee. I was there and they did an impressive job. I was proud that day to join with our students who love our state and care about its future. These aren’t the students who are ready to bolt our state for contiguous states and beyond even though institutions there would love to have them and are offering admission and scholarships for them to go. These are the students willing to put up with fewer services, bigger classes, and delayed graduation dates in order to fight for Louisiana higher education and for our state’s future. And a big part of ensuring our state’s future is ensuring the strength and vitality of its public colleges and institutions. Including Southeastern Louisiana University.
Your representative, Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) was there. Those of us who testified faced him in committee. He heard every word.
And this was his response:
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said the Legislature has little control because of constitutional dedications that protect other areas of the budget but leave higher education vulnerable.
“Eighty-five to 90 percent of our money is already tied up in some dedication,” he said. “All of those dedications have a constituency — you name it, they’re out there. … Our hands are tied.”
Part of this is true. Constitutional dedications are protected in the budget, and each of those dedications have a constituency.
However, these protections largely apply to mid-year budget cuts. Once a budget is passed, everything is constitutionally protected from mid-year cuts except health care and higher education. Actually, due to the constitutional amendments our voters passed last year, now health care has some protection too. Not that there is much left there to protect, but I digress.
But the legislature is not meeting to decide on mid-year budget cuts. They are coming up with a new budget. Just like they do every year at this time.
Which means that they CAN make changes to the budget, and they CAN allocate more money to higher education, and they CAN vote not to fund other dedications. They do this every year during the legislative session. Heck, our governor has proposed this too.
I’ll give you an example–one I’m familiar with because I’ve lived so long in Acadiana, and which has relevance in education (though not higher ed per se). The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) has been receiving funding from the state for its work in recruiting and training teachers for French immersion programs in public schools.
Once a budget is passed and funding for an organization or initiative like this is in place, it is protected from mid-year budget cuts. That is what legislators and others mean when something is constitutionally protected. They can’t cut this but they can cut higher education if revenues are not as high as projected, since we constitutionally must have a balanced budget every year.
But this year, Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed that CODOFIL not receive funding in the state budget.
Does CODOFIL have a constituency? Absolutely. They’ve saved CODOFIL from having its funding stripped in the past. But did that stop the governor and legislators to consider cutting it from this year’s budget? NO.
Same with the proposals to change refundable tax credits to non-refundable tax credits, which were supposed to mitigate higher education cuts, and keep us from going from a mere $211 million shortfall (which is still morbidly damaging) to over $600 million, which higher education leaders rightly say is far beyond the tipping point for many of our institutions. If we suffer a cut of that magnitude, I can’t say with a straight face that all of us will schedule enough classes in the fall 15 or into the spring 16 for our students. It is that bad. Some of us will survive (suffering a near-fatal wound is still technically alive) but some won’t.
What your representative is saying is that he does not want to face opposition from certain constituencies to make these tough choices to save higher education.
I know, for example, that a lot of the film industry stays on the Northshore even though filming is largely done in New Orleans. So those refundable tax credits can’t be touched?
What about corporate tax rebates? Those can’t be adjusted?
What is the difference between the film industry and other large corporations, and a comparably small advocacy group like CODOFIL?
Oh, yeah. Money, power, and size.
They are all constitutionally protected once a budget is in place.
But not now. Next year’s budget isn’t in place yet. That’s why they are in Baton Rouge right now. To come up with a NEW BUDGET. And to adjust dedications in the budget.
What Rep. Schroder is saying is that your education and/or your kids’ education is less important than these other constituencies.
Parents, your students are already speaking up. It’s your turn. I know that every year you hear the sky is falling and it never does (at least not completely), but this year is different. This year it is real. This year we really need you to stand up if you care about preserving higher education in our state for your children and grandchildren.
Legislators may seem more beholden to powerful constituencies, but the votes to keep them in office come from YOU. Protect Southeastern and the rest of the schools where your students are going, or plan on going in the future. Unless your educational future is at Southern Miss. Where I know a fair number of your students are going. But most are not. Most are staying right here in Louisiana. For now.