State college leaders on budget cuts: enough is enough

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The past decade has brought repeated budget cuts to state colleges and universities. Appearing before state lawmakers Thursday, school leaders said enough is enough.

Over the last nine years, the state's annual spending on colleges has d ropped by about $700 million. Under the Governor John Bel Edwards' budget proposal, state schools could take another hit amounting to about $17 million next year.

For LSU, that would amount to the 17th cut in nine years. LSU President F. King Alexander says during that time period, professors have left while class sizes have grown. Compared to other flagship schools in the south, LSU currently spends less per student than any other.

"We're not even comparing ourselves to the midwest, the west, and northeast. We're on the low end of a poor neighborhood," said Alexander.

Across Louisiana, state schools have about 5,000 fewer employees than they did nine years ago. "Doing more with less in higher education is, I think, a really misguided discussion," said Monty Sullivan, the president of Louisiana's Community and Technical College System.

The two-year schools have also seen several cuts over the years. Sullivan says if education is going to be a priority for the state, lawmakers must start treating it as an investment for the long-term, rather than a cost.

"Louisiana's challenge financially is going to be solved with more people educated, more people trained, more people in the workplace, making a living, providing for their families, reducing the cost of dependents on Louisiana, and increasing tax revenue for the state," said Sullivan.

The governor is pushing for an overall tax increase to help fully fund state schools. However, that is likely to be a tough sell, with most Republicans calling a tax hike a no-go as the overall state continues to struggle economically.

"Only in state government do we have these printing presses that can come bail us out," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who says simply throwing money at the problem is not going to help.

Under the governor's plan, next year, TOPS is funded at the same level as this year: 72 percent. All of this is subject to change as the budget winds its way through the House and Senate.

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