A message from John Bel Edwards

John Bel Edwards

Governor weighs in on higher education situation

Students in Louisiana deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their state government over the last eight years.  I’ll be the first to tell you that.  The previous administration put the needs of an out-of-state special interest ahead of your own and made you pay the price for a political agenda.  That stopped on January 11th.

Unfortunately, the damage was done.  Over the last eight years higher education institutions were severely weakened and Louisiana’s budget now sits atop the largest deficit our state has ever seen. Year after year, these budget deficits were patched using budget tricks and temporary funds.

The state wrote checks to corporations it couldn’t afford, which left students with higher tuitions and campuses unable to invest in your education. In fact, Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation for subsidies to big business, double what the state of Texas pays, yet our higher education institutions were cut by more than $700 million – the largest disinvestment in the nation.

Today, we’re faced with two dramatically different choices in Louisiana – bring in additional revenue or make deeper cuts to higher education that will force campus closures, class cancellations, and jeopardize the highly popular TOPS scholarship – a program I’ve fought year after year to protect.

The $940 million shortfall this year that must be fixed in 4 months and the $2 billion shortfall for next year will need to be addressed with a combination of spending cuts and additional revenue – doing one without the other would be irresponsible.

I have called the Louisiana Legislature into a special legislative session to address these challenges, and I have proposed several measures to avoid devastating cuts to our universities and community and technical colleges.  Unfortunately, because of the mismanagement of the state’s finances over the last eight years, higher education will face, in a best case scenario, $70 million in cuts very soon.

However, if the legislature does not work with my administration to bring in additional revenue, those cuts will increase to a catastrophic $200 million before June.  Next year, that number is even bigger.

The TOPS program is already operating this year at a shortfall to the tune of $28 million.  Thankfully, this year, the universities are able to absorb those costs, preventing students from having to pay for someone else’s reckless budgeting.

However, next academic year, the program, if underfunded, will award scholarships to far fewer students – both current recipients and those expecting the award next year.  I have outlined several proposals to avoid these cuts.  While I do not like the plans that I have proposed, they are necessary to begin the process of reinvesting in our young adults and universities.

Your support is critical in this process.  There are some in the legislature who are only interested in playing political games – who are determined to make our state capitol look like Washington, DC.  I refuse to let that happen.

I refuse to fail you, our students and young adults, in that way.  Louisiana’s future depends on you getting a quality education that will land you a good job here at home.  We’ve already seen too many of our young adults leave Louisiana for jobs and education in other states. That cycle must end.

So, I am asking you to get involved in this process. Contact your legislators. Make your voice heard at the Capitol during this special session.  Join higher education supporters from all across the state on Feb. 24th for Higher Education Day Rally at the State Capitol so our legislators know that you demand compromise to stabilize our budget.

Rallying on the Capitol steps with our students to save higher education from devastating cuts last year was one of my most proud moments as a legislator.

I was filled with hope to see so many young people involved in the future of our state. I was proud to fight alongside our students then and I am fighting alongside you again now.

Together, we can rebuild the future of Louisiana.