Tuesday, 22 May 2018 11:18

Louisiana legislature, "stupid is as stupid does" with higher ed non-funding

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by Ron Chapman

It has taken a while, but Louisiana has finally achieved the distinction of passing up Mississippi.  After a lot of effort, finally, we are LAST in Education. 

According to Wallethub, a credit scoring company, “Louisiana has the worst public school system in the nation.”  The state scored 48th in Math, 48th in Reading, 45th in drop-out rates, and 47th in ACT scores.   Only 29% of the population is college educated.  That should not be surprising when the state scores 40th in college readiness and 44th in High School graduation percentages. 

This all translates into a low standard of living for Louisiana residents.   It should not be surprising that the medium income is only $24,407.  The overall numbers are even worse: 48th in health care quality, 45th in business environment, 49th in economic opportunity, and 50th in gender income gap.  

Not surprisingly, the accumulation of these negative numbers places our precious state 48th in crime and corrections.  If people lack an education and opportunities for economic advancement, they resort to crime.  This is not advanced math…just simple logic.

Nevertheless, our state leaders persist in demolishing the very engine needed for Louisiana’s economic advancement… education.  State funding for higher education has plummeted from $21,120 per student in 2000 to $3,951in 2016.   That is an 81% reduction in funding in just sixteen years. If one accounts for inflation the numbers are even worse!

College professors in some of Louisiana’s institutions have not received any type of a raise in twelve years…12 YEARS!!  Additionally, can you imagine a situation in any business where people are promoted, but receive no increase in pay?  Welcome to Louisiana higher education. The result of this is an exodus of the “best and brightest” professors with the resulting diminishing of quality of instruction and research.

Making matters worse, the state legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has shifted the cost to students. By not allowing an increase in tuition, because that would impact the state’s allocation for TOPS, they have forced colleges to increase “FEES” to the point of absurdity.   

Despite the obstacles, Louisiana’s educators, administrators, and students are struggling to provide quality education and to learn.  But the lack of support and persistent cuts in funding are having a negative impact. 

At a time when the rest of the world has recognized that traditional “blue-collar” jobs no longer exist and the need for an educated workforce is imperative, Louisiana has placed the cost of education beyond the reach of its population.  

One would think they would eventually catch on, but no!  Once again the citizens of Louisiana are being held hostage by the state legislature.   Once again, the state legislature proves itself incapable of finding a solution to Louisiana’s fiscal problems other than threatening to savage either health care or higher education…the lowest hanging fruit.

Back in the 1930s the Long brothers recognized the need for education.  Huey Long raised teacher pay, improved schools, and provided free text books.  His brother Earl Long provided hot lunches back in the 1950s, opened vocational schools in every parish, equalized pay for black and white teachers, then took over the naval air station in New Orleans to open up Louisiana State University in New Orleans, (LSUNO) in 1958.   It was a free college designed to help working class families improve their future prospects. It worked!  My generation benefited from this.  

The Longs knew over eighty years ago that the key to economic development was an educated and trained workforce composed of people possessing a strong work ethic.   

Today, the Louisiana legislature has reverted back to a 1920s post-Reconstruction/Bourbon mindset.   Giving massive tax breaks to industries to move to Louisiana is not helping the state, it hurts.   Good businesses providing high paying jobs will not come because of the state’s poor standing.   Those who do come, take the tax breaks, but provide limited real living wages because they are not providing high quality jobs.

The cycle continues as Louisiana embraces its economic death spiral. 

It is past time for the citizens of this state to become angry.  Legislators persistently demand “Teacher Accountability”, but what about “Legislative Accountability”?   Can we not assess their performance and grade them accordingly?  Furthermore, how can they continually get paid to go into “Special Session” and perform no work?    It defies ethics to collect check for doing nothing.

One can only conclude that legislative ignorance lies at the core of the problem.  Do they not realize that failure to support higher education condemns future generations to poverty?  Do they not know that poverty and crime go hand in hand?  Are they that oblivious to reality?  

Perhaps so.  As Forrest Gump famously said: “Stupid is as stupid does.”   How better to describe the actions of the Louisiana State Legislature.  Unless, of course, they see value in keeping Louisiana voters ignorant.   In which case, they are succeeding quite well.

Ron Chapman is a professor at Nunez Community College, a businessman and a columnist

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