Earlier this week, at the Board of Regents Summit, House Speaker Taylor Barras and Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger talked funding for higher education in the upcoming session, starting with full funding for TOPS.
“It is the top of every legislator’s mind, particularly when they go home,” Barras, a Republican, assured Louisiana’s higher education officials.
He encouraged them to keep working to make the case that more money is needed.
“When, in fact, we feel like we’re maybe losing students out of state, any data that you can supply certainly makes the case stronger,” the Speaker said.
Leger, a Democrat, sees it differently.
“The stories that you tell to the Appropriations Committee are good stories, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick when it comes time to fund. I would just say I think we continue to have a major challenge with the Appropriations Committee on the House side,” Leger warned, while giving the Speaker – who sets the committee assignments for House members – a deadpan look.
Barras insists TOPS remains a priority.
“Any opportunity after we have scrubbed the budget, that there are dollars available in any pot, or new revenue that’s generated in any effort, I know a lot of folks in the legislature will be certainly interested in adding that funding wherever we can – however we can – to TOPS.”
But Leger says the cuts to TOPS funding in the current budget year, and cuts to overall college funding for the past nine years, have damaged the people’s confidence in their state and its lawmakers.
“At some point you begin to question what is it really worth if all you’re getting is a scholarship to a college that’s so terribly underfunded,” Leger said, ruefully.“It comes down to, when are we going to prioritize investing in the thing that moves the economy the most – having an educated workforce.”
And Leger encouraged higher ed officials to push hard for more autonomy this coming session – even suggesting a campaign theme.
“Currently the legislature sets tuition. Nobody trusts them. Take that away from them.”