College funding bills discussed

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, left, talks with State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, prior to the start of the House Education Committee on Wednesday.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, left, talks with State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, prior to the start of the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

Sponsor says it’s not good enough

A plan that would revamp the way Louisiana’s colleges are funded cleared an important hurdle Tuesday as legislators grapple with how to lessen the blow of state budget cuts to higher education while increasing academic performance.

A few hours later, legislation that would reward schools for meeting academic goals received a roller-coaster-like treatment. The measure’s sponsor explained the merits of the plan, then repeatedly said, “The bill isn’t any good” before shelving it.

The latter bill, House Bill 401 sponsored by state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, would give public colleges and universities the opportunity for a one-time fee increase in 2016 should their graduation and retention rates meet or exceed rates of peer schools in the south.

Carter said Louisiana’s schools are too far behind academically to catch up to their Southern peers anytime soon, rendering the legislation moot.

As Carter took to the House floor to explain his bill, he pulled out a document prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Office estimating the cost of the legislation.

The estimate stated the bill is unlikely to have any cost to the state because Louisiana schools are unlikely to meet the goals.

“Louisiana schools are substantially below the Southern average,” Carter said. “This bill is not any good. It’s not any good because our institutions of higher learning can’t meet the Southern average within three years.”

Carter explained that the average graduation rate among Southern schools is 54 percent while Louisiana’s overall rate is 26 percent.

Only one institution — LSU with its 60 percent graduation rate — compares favorably with the Southern average, he said.

After sidelining the bill, Carter explained that he didn’t want to make his colleagues vote on something that is essentially meaningless.

“Also, if someone voted ‘no,’ it would be like they don’t want us to be average,” Carter said.

As Carter dropped HB401, he promoted Senate Bill 117, a so-called outcomes-based bill, which he collaborated on with state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie. “This is why the outcomes bill is so important,” Carter said.

SB117 passed through the House Education Committee without objection Wednesday morning.

Appel explained that the bill is an attempt “to correct” the trend of Louisiana schools under-performing when compared with other schools in the South.

In arguing for his bill, Appel said the 2010 LA GRAD Act hasn’t served its purpose. The law ties 15 percent of schools’ funding to several dozen performance criteria. It also allows schools to raise tuition 10 percent each year provided they meet their academic targets.

Appel noted that schools, with one exception, have had great success meeting the performance goals they negotiated with the state.

“The problem is that when you look at performance, it hasn’t happened,” Appel said.

SB117, he said, assumes that performance can be more closely linked to state funding. The plan calls for Louisiana schools to be grouped into tiers according to their mission.

For instance, LSU would be grouped as a major research institution, or flagship, and should be compared to other flagship schools such as the University of Alabama, the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee, Appel said.

A task force would be commissioned to come up with recommendations that would tie a school’s performance within its peer group, such as graduation and retention rates, to the amount of money it receives from the state, Appel said.

The bill heads to the House floor next for further consideration.