By Dayne Sherman, guest columnist
Students are graduating from universities across Louisiana this May, and high school students are heading to college campuses this summer and fall. It’s an exciting time of year for students, parents, extended families, professors, and teachers. Nothing could be better.
But we need to be frank. Louisiana colleges and universities have been cut $700 million, 80 % of state funding since 2008. The tuition is increasing at an unsustainable and crippling rate, and many students will be strapped with student loan debt for decades to come.
This was done because Gov. Bobby Jindal doesn’t care about higher education for Louisiana residents and because his minions in the Legislature allowed him to steal from higher education in order to fund patronage from Shreveport to Port Sulphur. In fact, much of this patronage was devised as a way to pay off his cronies—often out of state—and garner future political favors. It doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to figure this out. Just read the newspapers.
The primary avenue to pay off the campaign favors and buy votes is through bloated consulting contracts. They keep Jindal’s as well as legislators’ supporters and campaign contributors happy, happy, happy.
But it’s time to stop the stupidity and fund higher education. We have students to educate and no funding to do so. Higher education has been starved while consulting contracts have been fed like meat hogs headed to market.
The only hope I see on the horizon is HB 142, a bill filed by Jerome “Dee” Richard (No Party-Thibodaux) and championed by Treasurer John Neely Kennedy (R-Madisonville). It calls for state agencies to cut 10 % from their contracting budgets and the $500 million saved to go to fund higher education. It’s a fair and fiscally conservative plan. The bill has sailed through the House, and now faces the big challenge: Gov. Jindal’s handpicked salons on the Senate Finance Committee. The committee meets on Monday, May 19 at 9:30 AM.
I believe passage of this bill is utterly essential to save public higher education in Louisiana.
There have been ongoing foes fighting Louisiana higher education. Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is one example of someone who has done nothing for higher education. How he can pretend that he’s a supporter of the educational institutions in and around his district is a real mystery. It’s time for him to put up or shut up, and HB 142 is the test.
We have a chance to save higher education. Will Donahue and White stand with the people of his district or with Jindal and his cronies? We will know soon enough.
Dayne Sherman resides in Ponchatoula. He is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise and expects the publication of Zion: A Novel in October. His website is daynesherman.com.