Legislation likely to come up in the legislative session this year would direct some contracts for state services to colleges and universities.
As Louisiana colleges and universities brace for future funding cuts, state Treasurer John Kennedy is proposing the measure, which he says would address concerns about a lack of oversight of non-government organizations, or NGOs, that get state contracts, while also providing more money for cash-strapped colleges and universities.
“It would solve a problem for the state and help our universities at the same time,” Kennedy said.
Higher education leaders are backing the idea.
During a recent meeting of the Board of Regents, Chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said he would be in support of it. LSU leaders also have said the university would welcome an opportunity to tap into state contracts.
Kennedy has been a frequent critic of NGOs in recent years, proposing various measures to provide more oversight of them. He said he believes the latest plan also would benefit the state’s colleges and universities, which have faced significant budget cuts in recent years.
“Generally, what we’ve been doing is contracting with non-state entities to provide these services,” Kennedy said. “There have been problems.”
Kennedy sees this proposal as a virtual win-win: giving more money to higher education, while strengthening state services that often are federally funded social programs.
The Jindal administration last week said higher education funding could face $300 million in cuts next year because of declining state revenues.
Strategy sessions have been held among system leaders and state officials, and the university systems’ boards already are bracing for a grim budget picture for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
It’s not clear which legislator will push the college contracts bill when lawmakers return to the State Capitol on April 13. Kennedy said he’s been in talks with several who support the idea, but he wasn’t ready to name a likely sponsor.
A backlash is likely to come from NGOs that could lose million-dollar contracts, but Kennedy said the overall response to his proposal has been positive.
“There’s a great deal of interest,” he said.
The state funnels millions through dozens of NGOs each year, often tucked into the capital outlay budget.
“The state spends tens of millions of dollars of mostly federal money — some of it’s state money, but a big chunk is federal money — with nongovernmental organizations to provide certain social services,” Kennedy said. “It’s taxpayer money.”
They take on several tasks, from after-school tutoring programs to job counseling.
“We’re ignoring some of the greatest assets and a great deal of expertise we have in our state,” Kennedy said. “If we spend $100 million on after-school tutoring, which we all agree is a good thing, we should be measuring the progress.”
NGOs long have faced criticism in Louisiana as serving as pet projects for some legislators. Kennedy has become the latest outspoken critic, raising concerns over their effectiveness.
He was careful to note that he doesn’t think all of them are questionable, but he said some of them are less clear about what work they do and a lot of money goes to salaries rather than services.
“The problem that we have is it’s clear that they’re not monitoring the spending and they’re not measuring whether the NGOs achieve the goals for which they are hired,” Kennedy said.
Under his proposal, universities and colleges would get first crack at those contracts. If universities don’t want to do the work themselves, then they would operate as the agency overseeing the work and contract it out through an NGO. Kennedy said that way the state could still tap into the schools’ expertise, particularly in education and social work departments.
The team-up also has the potential to provide students with credit-earning real-world experience as they work to obtain degrees.
“I think this will work,” Kennedy said. “Quite frankly, the universities will need the money.”