Louisiana Educators Confused By Jindal’s Latest Higher Ed Budget

Education experts in Louisiana were left confused by the latest executive budget proposal unveiled by Governor Bobby Jindal. The total money allocated towards higher education was reduced by about $200 million from the year before, but the confusion arose from the fact that distribution of money among a number of funds that comprise the total higher ed dollars underwent substantial changes as well.

Among the biggest changes was the withdrawal of nearly $700 million from the general fund, and a deposit of nearly the sum total of that money in the statutory dedications fund. Both lawmakers and university administrators expressed confusion about what kind of an impact these moves would have on university funding going forward.

Sen. Dan Claitor said the $200 million higher education cut looks bad, but it's actually even larger than it seems.

"We are uncertain about the switch from state general funds to statutory dedications," said University Director of External Affairs Jason Droddy.

The budget proposal assumes that the privatization of two of the three LSU hospitals will get finalized, although the process has not as of yet been completed. If the contracts aren't sealed by the time the new budget goes into effect, the funding will have to be found to keep the hospitals operating. If the privatization goes through, Jindal anticipates that 7,000 people will lose their jobs, but hopes that the majority will be rehired by the new operators once the transfer of control is complete.

Director of Media Relations Ernie Ballard said Jenkins and other University administrators were still assessing the proposed budget and had no further comment about changes to the LSU hospitals. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the proposed budget's funds, more questions about how higher education will be affected remain. LSU is one of many universities that receives state funding, and the amount each school receives has not yet been decided. Discussions regarding appropriations to individual schools are expected to begin in March and should be finalized this summer, Droddy said. Because these talks are just getting under way, it is unknown how Jindal's proposed 2014 fiscal year budget will specifically affect University students.

Until the terms of the budget are clarified, LSU colleges and universities will not be able to make operating decisions such as how much tuition to charge or how many new students they can afford to admit. However, even though the administrators are lacking in the detail, Claitor already said the fact that overall budget has been reduced by $200 million "doesn't bode well."

He also warned that any further cuts can't help but have an impact on the quality of education provided on LSU campuses.

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