Senator Appel’s Fishing Expedition Gone Awry

Evident in the Louisiana Legislature’s questioning of higher education during this special session is their outrage (at least among several Republican members) over two things:

  1. That higher education had the gall to let the public know that the 13th cut in 8 years in order to help fill a $3 billion dollar hole now threaten the third and fourth rails of Louisiana politics: TOPS and LSU football (sorry, these are public funds and public institutions so the public has the right to know);
  2. That higher education hasn’t yet closed, merged or privatized institutions after all these cuts.

Leading this charge is Sen. Conrad Appel III (R-Metairie), chair of the Senate Education committee. In his latest shot, in a letter sent to the Board of Regents on January 31–which by sheer coincidence didn’t get picked up by the Advocate until two days after the special session commenced and several days after the TOPS Crisis got legislators’ phones-a-ringing–he accused Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo and the Board of Regents of “circling the wagons” and resisting change.

The document that elicited this response was the Regents’ response to Appel’s own Senate Resolution 132 from the 2015 legislative session, in which it was charged to “re-examine the state’s public postsecondary delivery system” in order to “make optimal use of resources.” SR 132 appeared on the surface to ask Regents to re-examine and revise the 2011 Master Plan, which is a ten-year plan that was last revised in 2012. Anyone who has been involved in master planning knows that they are meant to be long-range visionary plans rather than short-term goals and objectives that change frequently. But embedded in SR 132 was a reminder to Regents of its constitutional responsibilities, which outlined the true purpose of the resolution, and what Sen. Appel was expecting to see in its response–revisions to the Master Plan, along with a proposal to merge/close institutions. He first charged Regents to “look beyond traditional parochial considerations,” and quoted the Regents’ constitutional duties, including revising and eliminating degree programs, studying the feasilbility of merging and transferring institutions, and making “timely” revisions to the master plan. It concludes by insinuating that the Board of Regents’ primary constitutional responsibility is to restructure public higher education:

WHEREAS, it is incumbent upon the Board of Regents to exercise its constitutional responsibility and re-examine the state’s public postsecondary education delivery system from a statewide perspective and determine the best manner in which to provide a coordinated statewide… delivery system that provides for the proper role, scope, and mission of each…institution and its placement within the… structure, focuses resources, and establishes an optimal balance of technical colleges, two-year and four-year institutions, and courses of study (emphasis mine).

In other words, revise that Master Plan now, even though you’re only 3 years into a 10-year plan, and make sure you include a plan to merge or close some universities.

A fishing expedition from the same legislator who carried Bobby Jindal’s ill-fated UNO/SUNO merger plan, and who based on his questioning over the last three days, seems still visibly upset that no university mergers happened during the eight years of hacking and slashing higher ed took during the Jindal administration.

This is also the same legislator who, in helping to launch Jump Start, said we were going from a 60%/40% four-year to two-year split (which is the national average) to 40%/60%–which, if true, would be far below other states. He also claimed that we have been pushing “college” too much in this state to students who don’t want to go to college.

While I support more robust career and technical education as well as our community colleges in general–which according to Dr. Monty Sullivan do not compete directly with our universities–Sen. Appel’s numbers seem more reflective of a desire to close or merge universities and send students to (cheaper) community colleges. As I’ve reported here before, Louisiana’s four-year/two-year split is actually 65%/35%, despite the fact that more students are graduating with the college-prep core curriculum. And according to the 2015 ACT State Profile Report, 71% of the 2015 high school graduating class aspire to a bachelor’s degree or higher. This means that more students aspire to a four-year degree than are currently going to our four-year universities. I’ve written a lot on why so I won’t go into that here… but poke around my four-part series on GRAD Act if you are interested.

Full disclosure–I support community colleges. I have worked in the LCTCS system. I am a product of a community college.

The Board of Regents complied with the resolution but not apparently with Sen. Appel’s expectations. Their response was, in essence, OK, we are revisiting the Master Plan like you asked us to, convened a Stakeholder Collaborative to ensure that it is in alignment with state workforce and economic development needs, and it will be considered for approval by the complete Board this spring. We can assume that the new Master Plan will include the “five bold plans” Regents Chair Richard Lipsey talked about in his legislative testimony, and perhaps they will involve reorganizing Louisiana public higher education.

But that wasn’t good enough for Sen. Appel. He went on another fishing expedition for the mergers Bobby Jindal didn’t get, and still didn’t get them. Study after study have NOT supported Louisiana university mergers. Georgia’s mergers (which came up in testimony as a great and wonderful example of reorganizing higher education) did not save money. Connecticut’s community college and university mergers did not save money. New Jersey’s mergers did not save money. Mergers in general in fact tend to cost money.

I’m not saying that mergers are bad or that our higher education system is perfect and wouldn’t benefit from them. Mergers between similar institutions with similar missions and student populations can work. But do them because they are the right thing to do to improve education and student outcomes, not because they will save money. And certainly don’t do it under the budget gun, because who will lose? Students.

Postscript: Higher Education Commissioner Rallo’s track record prior to coming to Louisiana appears to be one of a higher education reformer who is quite familiar with campus reorganizations–further evidence that Sen. Appel’s chastisement of him as supporting the status quo is off mark. Here’s an article from 2011 about Angelo State University’s reorganization under Dr. Rallo’s leadership in the face of Texas’s higher ed budget cuts while he was their chancellor. Note that many if not most of our institutions have been similarly reorganized to the tune of hundreds of programs closed or discontinued, and 5,0oo fewer employees on our payrolls.

 

Happy First Birthday to LA Higher Ed Confessions

This past week (actually, on the date of my last blog post), marked one year since I started this blog.

And other than who is in the Governor’s Mansion, things haven’t changed a whole lot. My life has changed some, but not as much as I was concerned it might a year ago because I haven’t gotten fired or laid off (yet) and I’m still very much in the thick of the sometimes soap opera, but more often lately, tragedy that is Louisiana higher education.

In fact, what we saw last legislative session–the end result of the Jindal administration–I had originally thought would be happening now once he was gone.

But now is the real end game. We are playing a reverse Robin Hood with our state’s resources, robbing from the poor, indigent, sick and students and giving it to corporations. Ayn Rand would be proud not just because of that but because we’ve also killed what she called altruism but in an earlier time was called the common good (here’s a Randian definition calling common good bad if you’re interested). And Jindal is gone, away from the shrapnel, and it’s blasting in the face of our current governor. People are comparing him to Trump (really?) and calling Jay Dardenne–who in my opinion is making good in his position as Commissioner of Administration on a Twitter promise to be a “present governor” despite losing the election–to  a turncoat.

But we have no more tricks, no more one time money, a state rainy day fund that only has enough to rain a drop or two in the hole we’re in, and some of our institutions hammered over the last eight years left with little to no reserves either. Only the strongest may survive but that’s relative because the strongest is a starving tiger.

We bought some time in the last session but that’s all we bought. Time. Not a solution. We simply bought that time from now and now the debt is due with interest. The Board of Regents hasn’t posted official numbers yet but unofficially enrollment was up at many of our institutions this fall thanks to the change in our admission criteria (I’ve heard people complain since that this was simply a way to increase revenue but the real reason why I waged that battle against the old admission criteria is because it was a civil rights issue, not a revenue issue), but when you end up giving more back to the state than you receive, then all it means is that you are simply taking more from more students and bleeding it back to the state, which in turn is bleeding it back to corporations in the form of tax breaks and rebates.

And given that our state is in a recession, we can’t say that this strategy has worked. Ayn Rand was wrong and Bobby Jindal was wrong. The intent may have been to diversify our economy but really all it did was cheapen it.

And now we are on the verge of shutting down the majority of our colleges and universities, running off our so-called private “partners” in health care, and letting people die and rot. While health care has the most immediate impact on people’s lives, I strongly believe that higher education is a life and death proposition too especially in our poor state, and the data back me up–because the “school to prison pipeline” is real.

And this is close to an event horizon from which there will be no return. To the cheers of a state that loves them some Trump.

One of the nice things about being an anonymous blogger is that I can say these things truthfully without worrying about the impact on my institution or the people we serve. I know that campus presidents and administrators have to put on the happy face and say it will be ok, to reassure their students, faculty, and staff. Enough people I know well have understandably bailed either on this state or on higher education altogether–including some of my mentors, former supervisors, peers, and students I’ve recruited or mentored myself–that I understand why we need to encourage who’s left to stay. Sometimes it’s frustrating to hear but I understand the game as I’ve played it having spent most of my higher ed career in recruitment and enrollment management. But now that I’m kind of paid to be a pessimist–seek out and find the problems and worst case scenarios, and help my institution either get out of them or better yet, avoid them altogether, I don’t feel as much like I’m living a double life professionally. But it still hurts to be a prophet of sorts. I don’t like being right. And I remain anonymous because I need to be an insider as long as possible and report back what I see truthfully and often painfully. I see myself here as supporting all our higher education institutions, not just the school or system in which I work, because I do this for our students and our state as a whole who needs us all, from LSU down to the most remote college campus.

Yesterday afternoon,  a couple of people I work with stopped by my office telling me to get some rest this weekend because it’s about to get really crazy, really fast. Yeah, no $&*!.

But heck, at least my experience in higher education is that there really is no rest. This is a calling for me, not just a job or even a career. But I do need strength to keep going. Sometimes that comes from what little downtime I allow myself, but more often for me it comes from reflection, focus, and resolve. Reminders of why I do what I do.

Like from the student working as a cashier I met the other night, who was in tears, terrified of losing her TOPS. Even though TOPS has been under fire for helping wealthy students who don’t really need it–and I know a lot of otherwise successful, high GPA students who didn’t get TOPS because they weren’t also blessed with a high enough ACT score–I also know plenty of students who wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school if it weren’t for TOPS. While it’s true that not everyone needs it, and that we should invest far more in need-based GO Grants instead, the students who do need it, need it. On average, two-thirds of our state’s public higher ed students are on some form of financial aid according to IPEDS–which is sadly far below the national average. So I’m sure that cashier wasn’t working for the sheer love of cashiering. She’s working to help pay for school expenses or fees her school was forced to impose to stay open, on top of TOPS.

And now we are on the verge of telling that girl, in effect, that her future is not as a college graduate, but as a college drop-out cashier.

One of Bobby Jindal’s jobs of the future.

Because people have been brainwashed into thinking that paying any taxes at all is a horrible thing and just let all our colleges and universities close. Yes, I have heard that in the last couple of days. I almost have no response because there will be no changing their minds. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they say.

So happy birthday, blog. The happiest birthday will be when our state finally appreciates, values, and prioritizes higher education.

But I don’t see that birthday happening anytime soon.

I hope I’m not right in that.

It Couldn’t Happen Here? Budget Cuts, Accreditation and Cautionary Tales in Kentucky and Illinois

UPDATE 2/12/16: It happened here, or at least we got our version of The Warning Letter I warned about below. h/t Louisiana Voice

Just in time for Lent, Louisiana is being treated to an appropriately massive amount of gloom and doom, and I don’t see any way out of fiscal fasting. The late C.B. Forgotston warned us that Bobby Jindal and his enablers only funded Louisiana through the end of his term, and boy was he right. Plus, as anyone who works in (or has been laid off from) the oil and gas industry knows, our state is in an economic downturn creating a double whammy on our state budget – both in reduced oil and gas revenues and in corporate revenues.

I was raised Irish Catholic, and am not a native South Louisianian, which means my default mindset is Lent without Carnival. I’ll try to stay positive and not feel like we’re screwed, but I can’t help but feel like we in higher ed are screwed.

Or that we’ve been screwed.

But in case any legislators see my blog (I am happy to say that our current Governor follows me on Twitter), let’s look at similar situations in other states, just for a preview of what we might be staring down in a few short months or even weeks.

What will happen if we cut higher education more than it has been?

All our state higher education institutions are either regionally or nationally accredited. Accreditation is required in order to receive Title IV funds, or in laymen’s terms, federal financial aid. Instead of being directly overseen by the Department of Education, we instead voluntarily submit to oversight by our regional accreditors, who ensure that we are in compliance with federal higher education regulations. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) is the accrediting agency for nearly all our institutions except for a small handful of technical and community colleges who are accredited instead by the Commission of Occupational Education (COE).

Anyone who has had anything to do with their institution’s accreditation knows that there are a whole slew of accreditation requirements, policies, and standards that institutions have to comply with. If you know one of these people, thank them, because they along with your admissions and financial aid folks shoulder a huge amount of often thankless responsibility for keeping your institution open and viable.

But there is one accreditation requirement that more than any other, threatens or even leads to loss of accreditation.

The core requirement that higher education institutions have a solid financial base and sufficient fiscal stability to support their missions and services.

Usually, the ones we hear are losing or at risk of losing their accreditation due to finances are for-profit institutions or small liberal arts colleges. But lately, state budget cuts have taken their toll, and regional accreditors are on notice.

Last week, the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accrediting body for the Midwest, put all of Illinois on notice that higher education budget cuts there threaten all their state institutions’ accreditation status. This was after Chicago State University declared financial exigency (the higher ed equivalent of bankruptcy) to prepare for these cuts. I’m block quoting the entire letter because it is really important to know what could have happened if we really did cut higher education in Louisiana by 82% like we came within minutes of avoiding last year… or what could happen if we are about to do the same this year.

February 4, 2016
To: The Honorable Governor Rauner
Senate President Cullerton
Senate Minority Leader Radogno
House Speaker Madigan
House Minority Leader Durkin
Members of the General Assembly

I am writing on behalf of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the regional accrediting agency for nineteen states, including Illinois. HLC is recognized by the United States Department of Education to assure quality in higher education and to serve as the gatekeeper to federal financial aid for students in our region.

As your role in Illinois includes consequential decisions regarding the governance and funding for colleges and universities, I am notifying you of the potential accreditation outcomes that may result from not approving a budget that will provide funding to Illinois colleges and universities and their students.

A criterion for accreditation is demonstration of the availability of financial, physical, and human resources necessary to provide quality higher education. HLC is aware that the colleges and universities in Illinois may need to suspend operations because financial resources from the state are not available. HLC is obligated to move swiftly to protect Illinois students and to ensure the quality of the colleges and universities they attend.

Following federal regulations, HLC has notified all Illinois colleges and universities that if they believe they will have to suspend operations or close in the next several months, they must provide HLC with a plan for how students can continue at another college or university to avoid eliminating their access to higher education. For students to continue at another institution, it could mean having to transfer to private universities or leave the state. It is also probable some students may drop out of college. The plan also must explain how students will be informed about this urgent situation, including how they access transcripts if operations have been suspended due to lack of state funding.

HLC’s analysis of that plan about the college or university’s viability in the weeks ahead could result in 1) a review of the college or university’s compliance with HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation, 2) a sanction – in which the college or university would have two years or fewer to demonstrate corrective action, or 3) withdrawal of accreditation. After such a withdrawal, there is a multi-year process for institutions to regain status with an accrediting agency. Students attending institutions that do not have status with an accrediting agency recognized by the federal government cannot access federal financial aid.

I served as a college president at two institutions in Ohio and know it is critical for state leadership to have every fact and potential outcome available. The lack of state funding is putting Illinois colleges and universities at serious risk and jeopardizing the future of students. I recognize the pain of budget shortfalls, especially in our home state of Illinois. The economic challenges the state faces are significant, and difficult decisions undoubtedly must be made. I am writing because I believe it is important for you to have all the relevant information before making the tough decisions that fall to your positions.

As you struggle with these difficult and life-changing decisions, if you have questions about the role of accreditation, please contact me.

Sincerely,
Barbara Gellman-Danley, Ph.D.
President, Higher Learning Commission

I don’t think Governor Edwards, House Speaker Barras or Senate President Alario want to get a similar letter from Dr. Belle Wheelan, President of SACSCOC. Or at least I hope not.

And this week, the president of Kentucky State University (a SACSCOC accredited state institution) notified Kentucky’s governor that similar budget cuts there could lead to a loss of their institution’s accreditation.

No accreditation – no federal financial aid – if not rectified almost always leads to closure.

And the potential displacement of thousands of students.

This couldn’t happen here? Of the list of potential impacts in the UL System, accreditation risk is near the top. Among LSU institutions, LSUA stated they too would risk losing accreditation if they suffer the budget cuts currently being planned. Really, if Illinois is any indicator, none of us can say that we’re safe especially if we have to shoulder our constitutional burden for the now almost $1 billion shortfall between now and the end of the fiscal year. All the funding that was supposedly SAVEd in the waning moments of last legislative session would be gone, since the impact will be compounded by the amount of the year remaining to cut those funds. So while in actual dollars it would be about $450-500 million, the impact would be far worse since major cuts, even beyond what institutions have already planned for (including programs and even institutions forced to “effectively close”), would be the only way to save that amount of money with only a few months left in the budget year.

Hopefully our governor and legislators understand how high the stakes are if we cut higher education much more than it already has been. We’ve talked about fiscal cliffs but this is another kind of cliff we don’t want to be anywhere near, trust me.

2/10/16 PM UPDATE: Responding to the Revenue Estimating Conference’s updated projections, LSU President F. King Alexander stated, “There is no way to implement such immediate and far-reaching reductions without dramatically impacting the services we provide to our students and our state.” More ominously, ULS President Dan Reneau warned, “If it becomes reality, it would lead to consequences no one wants to consider.”

And yes, the consequences would include what I wrote about above.

 

LA Higher Ed Is Not The Problem – Athletics Edition

I’ve read most of The Advocate’s impressive–though not completely accurate–series on Louisiana’s higher education woes. I can’t say I’ve fully digested it all, but I am experiencing a bit of heartburn over their conclusion that Louisiana higher education is too big, too inefficient, and needs to be cut more. As a result, it may take me some time to offer a level headed critique of the series.

But I’ll start with a quick look at the piece on college athletics, mainly because I don’t work directly in college athletics so don’t feel as strongly about it as say, merit vs. need-based scholarships, admission standards or minority access to higher education. So while I may not be able to wow you with my great insider knowledge, I’m still too angry that we are Here Again After Only Six Months to spew anything but nonsensical venom on these other issues that I care most deeply about.

First in asking the question, “Why are athletics largely immune to higher education budget cuts?”, and in only comparing Louisiana schools against each other, the Advocate is making it seem like Louisiana universities are spending too many of our tax dollars in the “athletics arms race” and that this is contributing to our state’s budget woes.

Well, as I said in my previous post, since higher education overall (including TOPS) is only 4% of our entire $25 billion state budget, according to the Advocate’s numbers athletic subsidies are just a drop in the total budget bucket.

It is true that LSU is the only program in the state that is self-supporting. In fact, it is one of only seven programs in the nation that is completely self-supporting without university subsidies. So comparing the rest of our institutions to LSU is unfair because so few other schools nationally–not even the two schools who played for the national championship this year–are so self-sufficient that they receive zero subsidies from their institutions.

When looking at the national picture, programs with very low or no subsidies fall into two categories–elite, big conference schools like LSU, or very underfunded programs, many of them at HBCUs.

And nearly all of our state’s other programs fall into that second category. They aren’t highly subsidized compared to other programs nationally. They mostly range from being very to extremely underfunded. Here’s where our other 10 NCAA institutions fall in the finance rankings of 230 NCAA schools nationally:

  • UNO (which almost dropped to DIII status) – 215
  • Grambling (whose football players went on strike year before last because their athletic facilities were so pitifully unsafe) – 206
  • Nicholls – 190
  • ULM – 189
  • Southern – 186
  • McNeese (which is usually among the top ranked FCS schools in the nation and last year finished 9th) – 185
  • UL Lafayette (whose Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Foundation is modeled after LSU’s Tiger Athletic Foundation) – 181
  • Southeastern – 176
  • Northwestern – 163
  • LaTech – 117

Since all of our schools are in the bottom half, and most in the bottom 25%, I don’t think that anyone can conclude that Louisiana institutions are pumping huge amounts of tax or tuition dollars into sports while the rest of the university crumbles under the weight of tax cuts. We as a state are basically non-players in the athletics arms race and in fact are overperforming in comparison to how much we aren’t spending. The modest funding that institutions do give athletics funds much more than what goes on in the game–they do double duty in advertising and recruiting, and contribute scholarships to real students, not just potential NFL stars.

To give some additional perspective, we CAPPED our TV/film tax subsidy program at roughly twice the amount of subsidies given to our own state’s athletic programs. So let’s cut football at Southeastern so we can get more NCIS: New Orleans, right?

Another reason why we can’t just cut sports, or cut certain sports? A little Federal law known as Title IX that requires gender equity in all higher education programs receiving Federal financial aid. According to the Federal government, athletics programs are considered educational programs or activities. This means that schools with athletic programs have to provide equitable facilities, scholarships, and participation opportunities to all student-athletes, men and women. This is a requirement among schools with athletics programs to receive Federal financial aid. So cutting our schools’ already meager athletic funding (see above) puts Title IX compliance at risk, unless we are advocating that they just cut them all so that we can continue allowing administrators over statutorily protected programs to mishandle their funds. This is Louisiana, after all.

And also left unsaid is that in recent years LSU’s athletics have pumped millions of dollars that used to come from our state in order to keep LSU’s classroom lights on.

Once again, we are proving that we as a state don’t give a $%#@ about higher education.

Higher education is not the problem. I won’t say that we are perfect, but continuing to heave cuts on less than 5% of our budget yet saying it is A-OK to give K-12 scholarships to failing private schools in the name of “choice” is not going to make higher ed more “efficient.” It might force some of us to close. And then there won’t be any athletics either because I’m pretty sure the NCAA requires that student-athletes actually have a school to go to.

No, Louisiana’s colleges and universities are not the problem. Louisiana’s PRIORITIES are the problem.

 

The Sky is Falling (Again) – 2016 Louisiana Higher Education Edition

Due to Louisiana higher education’s Crisis du Jour, which theoretically could have been avoided but we knew was all but unavoidable effective the end of Bobby Jindal’s term as Magician-in-Chief, I spent most of the day today alternating between dispiritedness and outright despair.

It’s not because I am afraid for myself but for our state. I could care less if I am furloughed or not but I do care about the impact on everyone else in higher education – faculty, staff and students. Governor John Bel Edwards says he doesn’t want to cut higher education, but due to our state constitution and our priorities as a state it doesn’t matter if he means it or not–we have few other options. We are in this mess because Louisiana has proven that it does not value higher education. We say we do, but if we really valued it, it would not be the only part of the state budget that is completely vulnerable to mid-year cuts. We are completely and totally discretionary.

Even health care gained some constitutional protections in 2014. Higher education has NONE.

So while some bitch and moan about how out of control TOPS has gotten (which got out of control simply because tuition is now paying for what state appropriations used to), or opines once again that we have too many universities (something which has been soundly refuted, by the way) remember that the approximately $1 billion higher education costs our state ($750 million in appropriations + $250 million in TOPS) is less than 5% of our entire $25 billion state budget.

We in higher education are not the problem.

But constitutionally, we are the only solution, year after year after year.

And the budgetary hole we are now in is TWICE what higher education costs the state a year.

We need to address the Untouchable parts of the budget.

Everything needs to be on the table.

And we need more revenue. Simple as that. Bitch and moan too about taxes, but we just saw the biggest tax giveaway in our state’s history and what did it get us?

We’re still poor.

Our state’s economy lags behind the rest of the nation, and did before oil collapsed.

And the thing that was supposed to guard our state, particularly higher education and health care, from the vagarities of the oil market–Stelly–is long gone, along with the surpluses that went with it.

If we value higher education, we need to sustain it and protect it.

If we don’t, then why care if LSU has to cancel hundreds of classes and lay off hundreds of people?

Or if the thousands of people Sen. Jack Donahue was afraid would be walking the streets unemployed in July of last year start walking the streets unemployed in February of this year instead.

This is getting old, folks.

Please Define “Seen”

For the handful of people who follow me on Twitter, and the smaller handful who follow my blog, there is a reason why my Twitter profile picture (a “No Funds No Future” sign) and my blog’s subtitle (“From the Front Lines of Bobby Jindal’s Destruction of Louisiana’s Public Colleges and Universities”) will remain unchanged.

Because unless you have been hiding under a rock, everyone knows that Louisiana’s budget situation is as dire as last year’s.

And other than the fact that we now have a governor who acknowledges that public higher education should actually exist, we are in as much danger as last year.

This is because the damage that Bobby Jindal unleashed on us was meant to last far beyond his term limits.

The only difference between now and two weeks ago is that the new emperor admits we have no clothes because the last one gave them all away to every person, corporation and sector he believed would help him become Leader of the Free World.

Yesterday, Governor John Bel Edwards announced that “these [budget] problems are bigger than our state has ever seen.”

Well, we should have seen them coming last year, when we were staring down a mere $1.6 billion deficit and duct taped our way out of it. The late CB Forgotston predicted a $1.9 billion dollar deficit for next fiscal year. He didn’t come by that number magically… he instead did this thing called Math, and I guarantee not the John White, Common Core variety either. Amazing that we are now facing a projected $1.9 billion deficit for FY16-17.

And I guarantee without a doubt that Bobby “saw” it coming too.

Because deficits like these would completely cripple our state government and force institutions to effectively close.

Which I have said all along was the PLAN. Not collateral damage. Not, oops, sorry, I mismanaged the budget. But the intent.

Interestingly, the playbook looks very similar to the one promoted by the increasingly infamous Koch brothers. Others have discussed Jindal’s connections with the Koch-backed ALEC with reference to secondary education, but the implications from following the Kochs’ base ideology, which Jindal lockstepped with as much as he did Grover Norquist, extends to all areas of state government and services far beyond education.

I haven’t read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money yet, but I did read her recent article in POLITICO which includes this telling (yet not completely surprising) section describing the depth of Charles Koch’s hatred for the government, based in part on a previously unpublished biography of the Kochs she uncovered in her research:

From his earliest years… Charles’ goal was to achieve total control… “Only the governments and the courts remained as sources of authority,” [Clayton A.] Coppin writes, and, if enacted, Charles’ “libertarian policies would eliminate these.”

Had Charles wanted merely to promote free-market economic theories, he could have supported several established organizations, but instead he was attracted to fringe groups that bordered on anarchism. Coppin suggests, “He was driven by some deeper urge to smash the one thing left in the world that could discipline him: the government.”

Drawing on a cache of private documents, some of which remain in the possession of Bill Koch, Coppin was able to trace Charles’ political evolution as he moved away from the intellectual fringe of his old mentor, LeFevre, in favor of gaining hands-on power. In response to libertarian thinkers who argued that ideas, not practical politics, were the best instruments of change, Charles wrote a revealing 1978 article in the Libertarian Review, arguing that outsiders like themselves needed to organize. “Ideas do not spread by themselves; they spread only through people. Which means we need a movement,” he wrote. His language was militant, demanding that “our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.”

“Destroy the prevalent statist paradigm” is merely code for destroy the government.

Which means that the Kochs’ ideology and model policies, including as applied by Bobby Jindal (even though, boo hoo, it didn’t get him any Koch-love), are meant to “tear the government out ‘at the root.'” And what is one sure way to do that? Defund it.

The struggle to stabilize the state budget and all it funds is truly existential. While some readers may recall the dark days of the 1980s oil bust when the state economy collapsed and Louisiana’s government nearly missed payroll, and argue that things haven’t gotten quite that bad yet, I argue that in some ways Edwards is right and this is worse–because we are recovering from an outright attempt to defund and destroy our state government. While that may not actually happen, we came so dangerously close that we are still going to suffer some very severe consequences.

So we aren’t out of the woods yet. Edwards said that he would attempt to “minimize severe cuts in the next three months that would deeply hurt our citizens, hospitals, public schools and universities.” Minimize does not mean they won’t happen at all.

I have heard that we in higher ed need to at least be ready for some cuts. They wouldn’t be of the existential variety like we came within 90 minutes of getting last year. They’d be instead more like the incremental cuts we’ve had for several years. “Hearing” doesn’t mean it will happen. Maybe we will be spared this time. But since mid-year cuts will include statutory, but non-constitutionally protected discretionary funds, and the SAVE funding is clearly in that category, I will be very surprised if higher ed makes it out of this or next budget year without some additional “efficiencies” being forced upon us.

We will see.

1/22/16 UPDATE: Shortly after I published this blog post, Gov. Edwards met with higher education leaders to discuss the budget situation. The current projected mid-year higher education cut stands at $131 million if the one-time solutions the Edwards administration fail to materialize (including one-time use of BP settlement funds which may not stand up to legal scrutiny). LSU President F. King Alexander sent this message confirming this to the LSU community this morning (HT to @brandonkatzir).

Blessed Are the Sarcastic Truthtellers–On Blogging and the Late CB Forgotston

Like many of us in Louisiana higher education, I spent my holiday break completely disconnected from having anything to do with it. After the whirlwind that was 2015, it was a necessary break. Not only did I risk my career by going public with my long standing private war against Jindal’s higher ed policies (if you want to call “dismantle higher ed” a policy)–and as a result surprisingly won a huge personal victory by helping to heave a stake into the heart of evil GRAD Act–but I also came really close to having to ditch my higher ed career anyway due to my spouse’s health and experienced some major life changes as a result. Even without our state’s budget crisis which almost did–and still can–bring Louisiana’s public higher education system to the brink of a multi-institutional collapse of historic proportions, 2015 was a stressful year.

So I spent most of my break with my spouse and our animals, and very little of it reading the Advocate or monitoring my Twitter feed. Our most skittish cat got really ill and stopped eating, so I spent a good chunk of time chasing her around the house so we could first get her to the vet, and then to force feed the poor thing. Pretty bad when a restful break means syringe feeding a sick cat, but it is what it is.

But I came up for air twice to read the Advocate… once on the 30th when Governor Elect John Bel Edwards and his incoming administration director Jay Dardenne announced that our horribly bad patched together budget was even worse than previously imagined, to the tune of $1.9 billion dollars

And again yesterday evening, when I learned that CB Forgotston, the respected political blogger who was near the top of the list of bloggers inspiring my own blog, and who had correctly predicted that the horribly bad patched together budget would indeed be worse than previously imagined, had passed away.

Last night I woke up several times… each time remembering in shock that CB is gone! And at probably the time our state needs his honesty, wisdom, and insight the most as we take stock of just how big a sinkhole Jindal opened up beneath us. And I won’t opine on what might drive someone to commit suicide because I don’t pretend to have any earthly idea, but I will say that I hope in my heart of hearts that these two things aren’t related, and that CB is now at peace.

Bob Mann and Dayne Sherman have already written lovely tributes. Unlike them, I didn’t know CB personally and indeed never had the opportunity to meet him. I did have several Twitter exchanges with him over this past year, all wonderfully entertaining and incisive. Maybe only a fellow skeptic could find his sarcasm inspiring, but I did. I knew enough to be very careful not to risk getting him going on the Stelly Act, which is one thing on which we disagreed and on which CB most definitely had more specifics backing up his position than I do on mine. The last thing anyone (or at least anyone with smarts) wanted to do was get in a Twitter war with CB because he ALWAYS won. But we did agree that Jindal destroyed our state on purpose, and that his true intent was to cut Louisiana’s higher education system even more (something that Jindal himself finally admitted recently).

Over break, I was contemplating whether I should continue blogging and Tweeting or not, or if I should just go back to being provocative only within the hallowed halls of higher education, rather than in public.

But while my voice is nothing compared to the great CB Forgotston, we need all of us on deck as we try to fix our state.

Yes, I am glad that Jindal is almost out the door, and that CB’s Jindal count down will soon be to zero.

But our new governor won’t be perfect either. I have hopes that he will be much better, but he’s already done a thing or two that are, well, highly political if you know what I mean.

So we always need those, like CB, who question it all and aren’t afraid to critique or just downright criticize anyone, not based on party, personality, or ideology, but based on the facts and what is best for our state.

We need truthtellers. Those who aren’t beholden to anyone or anything but the truth. And in today’s world, that falls as much or more on independent bloggers and investigative journalists as it does on the professional press.

And while I won’t ever be anything close to CB in a million years, I can tell the truth as I see it, and maintain the courage to do so.

So my tribute to CB today is… I won’t quit blogging, Tweeting, or telling the truth.

Rest in peace.