Our Views: Louisiana politics turns back on its youth _lowres

This is the current Louisiana state flag as described by the Secretary of State's office.

The Louisiana state flag famously depicts a pelican presiding over her nest, having torn open her chest to nourish her young.

But that’s not the way the pelicans over at the state Capitol have been behaving lately.

They have cut state funding for universities by 53 percent since 2008, damaging the engine that we need to create opportunity for our young. The colleges and universities of the state have made up most of the difference by charging more, saddling young people with debt at an age when they should be free to flourish.

The need to trim higher education chiefly stemmed from irresponsible tax cuts by two governors —– a Democrat and a Republican — during the post-Katrina era, when recovery spending inflated state collections in a way that our leaders should have known could not last.

Now, there is broad agreement that the cuts have gone on too long, and Louisiana is further than ever from Huey P. Long’s dream of a world-class public system of higher education.

In just eight years, Louisiana has slid back from 6th to 24th in the nation in support for colleges and universities, measured against residents’ incomes.

In the coming week, our special report, Cutting Classes, will examine how that happened and what needs to be done to reverse the slide. Some of the solutions involve funding. But taxpayers should also demand more efficiency from a collection of schools that is not really a system at all. Louisiana, while a small state, has more schools than Florida.

Louisiana’s institutions of learning were created to benefit our young people, but many of them have been passive spectators as the cuts have crimped their opportunities. So the fight is led by the adults who run the institutions, but they are sometimes more dedicated to preserving their jobs than representing the interests of taxpayers.

It’s time for all the pelicans in the nest to demand better.