La. House passes ‘WISE’ higher ed plan

A plan that would create a $40 million pot of money that Louisiana’s colleges and universities would then compete over, sailed through the state House overwhelmingly Wednesday on a 100-0 vote.

It now heads to the Senate for a vote.

House Bill 1033, sponsored by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, would create the Workforce Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund.

The plan would set aside 80 percent of the funding for workforce development. Every public college or university in the state would get a shot to collect a share of the money depending on how many graduates they produce in high-demand fields such as computer science and engineering.

In order to draw down the funds, schools would have to come up with a 20 percent match in private investments.

The remaining 20 percent of the WISE funds would reward schools for their research productivity.

Kleckley called the WISE fund a small step in making up for some of the $700 million Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have stripped from Louisiana colleges since 2008 as they maneuvered to balance state budgets.

He said it will put the state on track to fill some of the STEM science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs analysts predict Louisiana will need because of a coming manufacturing boom. Kleckley said the state will likely need 69,000 new STEM jobs by 2018.

“It’s well documented what’s happened to higher ed over the last six or seven years,” Kleckley said. “This is a very specific way for higher ed to get additional dollars and to help our people in Louisiana go to work.”

This is the state’s higher education community “speaking with one loud, clear, unified voice,” Kleckley said before adding that his bill is not a “silver bullet” that will solve all of the problems state budget cuts have caused.

And while the bill passed easily, there’s no guarantee the $40 million will ever materialize. Their is an amendment in the legislation which makes the bill “subject to appropriation,” meaning the money isn’t set aside automatically once the bill passes. Instead, lawmakers will have to find a way to cobble together the $40 million as they haggle over the state budget