College funding bill advances in Senate committee

Legislation that would tie the amount of money colleges get from the state to how well they do on a number of key performance measures breezed through the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 377 goes to the full Senate for consideration.

A similar bill filed last year also cleared several early hurdles with little effort before it ultimately was trounced on the floor of the Louisiana House.

The thinking at the time was that House members were retaliating against state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Members of the House felt Appel was too quick to kill a compromise between supporters and opponents of a new K-12 teacher evaluation system.

Legislators thought they’d reached an agreement to delay some of the new evaluations, but the deal fell apart in Appel’s committee.

Undeterred, apparently, Appel has reintroduced his bill this year with a few minor tweaks.

SB377 requires the leaders of Louisiana’s four college and university systems to come up with a higher education funding model based on how well schools perform.

As Appel explains, Louisiana’s public colleges and universities would be assigned tiers. They later would be measured against other peer schools in the South.

For example, LSU is considered a major research university. Under Appel’s bill, LSU would be measured against other flagship universities in the South, including the University of Alabama, the University of Florida and the University of Arkansas.

A portion of LSU’s state funding would be tied to how well the university is competing with peer schools in categories including graduate rate, retention rate and the number of degrees produced.

Schools also would be rewarded for tailoring some of their course offerings toward high-demand careers and jobs that are expected to move the state’s economy forward.

Appel said he also wants schools to be judged on their research productivity, how quickly students graduate and a number of other factors.

“We have a funding problem in this state, but we also have an efficiency problem,” he said.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, a teachers’ union that generally focuses on K-12, weighed in on the issue Wednesday.

LFT President Steve Monaghan seized on the portion of the bill that encourages schools to direct some of their efforts toward workforce development.

“We oppose the bill, but not the intent,” he said. “We don’t want to see the unintended consequences of universities being so aligned with workforce development that they neglect the other things universities do.”

Monaghan added that a big part of a university’s value is creating educated, well-rounded people, not solely funneling students toward the most in-demand jobs.

Appel countered that workforce development is one of about a dozen criteria in the bill.

“The most important thing, to me, is efficiency,” Appel said. “We’re just not doing it right now … right now there is no accountability.”