Louisiana senators voice concerns over House budget plan, including possible ‘fund sweep’ for TOPS money _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- The State Capitol and statue of Gov. Huey Pierce Long at the State Capitol in February 2016.

The Advocate recently published an article pointing out that Louisiana’s public education system is 46th in the ranking of state education systems. When the price of oil is above $100 per barrel, the state’s economy is in the top 10 states of the nation, but when the price of oil is $40 per barrel, Louisiana’s economy matches its educational rank of 46th. That points to the strong correlation that exists between the educational attainment of a state’s population and the economy of a state. It seems that 46th is the rank for our educational system, our educational attainment and our economy. That is not all of the bad news.

There are five magazines that annually rank universities, and Louisiana no longer has a public university in the top 50. More recently, The Wall Street Journal ranked universities on 15 performance measures, and Louisiana had three private universities in the top 400: Tulane, Loyola and Xavier. LSU was the highest ranked public university at about 440th. If Louisiana continues to fund education as it has for the past 10 years, all this means is that our state rank 35 years from now will be off-scale for public education, educational attainment, universities and state economy.

Huey Long increased the budget of LSU from $600,000 to $3 million in 1930. Standard Oil paid for that increase, and every year, the Legislature increased the budget to cover inflation. LSU was one of the wealthiest public universities in the nation. Legislators who paid less than $200 per year in tuition and fees don’t mind cutting $720 million out of higher education and increasing tuition to $12,000 per year. They don’t have a clue as to how that impacts enrollment, efficiency, research or quality, let alone the educational attainment of the state’s population.

Grace Notes: If budget restrictions are the problem, how can they be the solution?

Louisiana still has a long way to go to catch Massachusetts and a host of other states. That being the case, we hear a frequent criticism that in Louisiana, “we have too many universities.” Massachusetts has about 75 and Louisiana 18. We have 25 or more very poor parishes and a minority population the makes up 40 percent of our total population. We are doing nothing for our poor parishes and very little to catch the educational attainment of our poor citizens up to national standards. Alabama spends right at $7 billion per year on education from dedicated taxes. South Carolina, another poor state, has 95 percent of its African-Americans in historically white universities. By increasing TOPS standards, our Legislature will eliminate minorities from the TOPS program in the face of a 50 percent increase in the number of African-Americans and a 200 percent increase in the number of Hispanics in TOPS over a 10-year period. That was good news, and minorities accounted for almost all of current increases in TOPS enrollments.

James Wharton

chancellor emeritus, LSU

Baton Rouge