WRKF News

Taming TOPS

Apr 2, 2015

It happens every session: lawmakers, seeing the quarter of a billion dollar price tag on TOPS, look for ways to tweak the college scholarship program. This time, they might succeed.

“By establishing a ‘baseline’ tuition, future tuition increases will not be reflected in the state budget,” says Senate Finance committee chairman Jack Donahue, who is the author of Senate Bill 48. “This will allow the legislature to do a better job predicting the overall cost.

The House Appropriations committee combed through the Department of Corrections budget Tuesday, and testimony confirmed what many criminal justice reform advocates have long said: this state has the nation’s highest per capita incarceration rate.

Marrero Rep. Patrick Connick pitched the big question.

“The inmates, in 27 years, have increased 110 percent. And the population of Louisiana has increased 9 percent over the same period. How do you explain that?” Connick asked Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.

“You have to remember what you may be losing in the higher education system as you go into deeper cuts,” warns Public Affairs Research Council president Robert Travis Scott.

Scott addressed the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday, focusing on PAR’s new report, “Innovation in Louisiana”, which analyzes state support for university research programs. Those programs bring in grant money up front, and licensing revenue from patents for years afterwards. Scott notes that continued state budget cuts to higher education are impacting the amounts and numbers of research grants Louisiana’s universities are able to access.

Sex Ed in the Community, If Not Schools

Mar 30, 2015
Lori Lauve/Flickr

As state law restricts sexual education curriculum, and who can teach it in schools, community organizations are taking up the task.

Earlier this year, an HIV advocacy group in Baton Rouge launched a program called Fantastic Young Individuals. On March 31, the second session of FYI begins, with students learning the basics of reproductive health.

“Is your hospital next?” asked a sign prominently displayed during a February 11 rally on the state Capitol steps, protesting the planned closure of Baton Rouge General’s Mid-City Emergency Room. With that ER shutting down tomorrow—an unintended consequence of privatizing Louisiana’s charity hospital system—it’s a question that continues to trouble Baton Rouge Rep. Patricia Smith.

We know their public personas, but what do Louisiana’s statewide elected officials do when they’re off the clock?

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell does Elvis.

Louisiana’s top lawyer actually puts on the bedazzled jumpsuit and performs as an Elvis impersonator in his spare time. It’s not a new gig for him: Caldwell says music has always been a part of his life.

Dr. Isiah Warner on the campus of LSU.
LSU

The sciences are tough enough. For students of color, studying science, technology, engineering or math can be particularly daunting.

At LSU over the last decade and then some, Isiah Warner has been leading efforts to help those students make it from high school all the way through graduate school. And it seems to be working.

The graduation rate for African American undergrads who’ve gotten scholarships and mentorship through a program called La-STEM is 86 percent — by comparison, it was just 60 percent for the LSU campus overall among last spring’s cohort.

Warner is now Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives and Boyd Professor of analytical and environmental chemistry.

As an African American growing up in Bunkie, his enthusiasm for science was unusual — to say the least.

As state lawmakers grapple with the $1.6-billion shortfall in the next budget, the House Appropriations Committee has asked budget analysts to investigate each department’s fiscal ups-and-downs over the Jindal administration years. Legislative budget analyst Chris Keaton says overall state revenues have dropped much less than the shortfall would indicate.

“Total state General Fund that we had available to spend went from $9.3-billion in 2006-07, to $9-billion in 2015-16,” Keaton announced Wednesday.

The House Appropriations Committee continues to take testimony on the governor’s budget proposal this week, but something isn’t adding up. When DOTD came to the table Tuesday, Appropriations chairman Jim Fannin started questioning purported savings from the disappearance of 33 jobs.

LSU

Imagine this: it’s a cool autumn Saturday night, and there’s no football in Tiger Stadium. In fact, there’s no LSU football at all, because the state’s flagship university is closed for the year. LSU System President F. King Alexander says the possibility is real.

“This budget reduction is so large, we’d have to furlough everybody for an entire year,” Alexander told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday.

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