A lawmaker who represents parts of Terrebonne Parish is sponsoring a pair of bills this legislative session that he hopes will free up more than $890 million for primary, secondary and higher education.
One of the bills by Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, will cap the state’s scholarship program, called TOPS, and raise requirements for the award. Another would provide money for higher education.
Higher education is one of the few areas of state government that doesn’t have a pool of money directly dedicated to it.
The legislative auditor’s annual report that precedes each session points to higher education money as an issue lawmakers should focus on.
“State officials have cut more than $600 million in higher education funding over the past six years,” according to the report.
Past legislative fixes, like the Granting Resources for Autonomy and Diplomas Act or GRAD Act, which allows institutions to raise tuition if they meet performance benchmarks, haven’t overcome cuts.
Harrison hopes cutting TOPS will free up money for campuses, and lower tuition.
“Further, the higher tuition amounts have placed a greater burden on students who do not receive TOPS awards and increased the costs of TOPS for the state,” the report says.
The bill would allow eligible students to receive $1,600 per semester at most. Currently, the highest award garners full tuition from the state.
“Too many students grab the money and say they’re going to LSU,” which means whichever institution has the highest tuition gets the bulk of the money, Harrison said.
A full-time Louisiana resident pays $3,477 a semester at LSU and $2,839 at Nicholls State University.
Harrison said the measures will “level the playing field” between institutions and encourage families to browse state colleges to find the program that best suits them.
Students may be encouraged to stick with the program they chose, because certain students receiving a TOPS award and drops out would have to repay the state.
Another bill would reroute proceeds from the state lottery to all levels of education and the state’s pension fund. Harrison said he is open to tweaking the ratios for each.
Currently, the money goes to the funding mechanism for primary and secondary schools, but other interests, like thoroughbred associations and New Orleans City Park, have gotten tacked on.
Harrison worries those gaming interests will hire lobbyists to dissuade lawmakers from approving the measures, which he hopes will move the state closer to solving its problems in education.
“When you open a door to a school house, you close a door to a jail cell,” Harrison said.
Source: Education News