Our Views: Reform push falls short

Dan Claitor
Dan Claitor

After revelations that legislators are doling out Tulane scholarships to the children of political insiders, voters will be demanding real reforms for a program that seems plagued by scandal every generation.

The first to rush in is state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. He wants to bar legislators from awarding the $43,150-a-year scholarships to relatives of elected officials and political donors and to require disclosure of who gets the awards.

We doubt voters will be impressed, because Claitor’s offering falls short in two important ways.

First, the reason the program seems to magnetically attract scandal is legislators have no business awarding scholarships in the first place. The scholarships exist because of a century-old agreement in which a then-public university was transformed into what became a world-class private school. As part of the bargain, the state and city agreed to waive many of Tulane’s tax obligations, while Tulane promised to allow each member of the Legislature and the New Orleans mayor to distribute scholarships each year.

There are 144 legislators who today each award a scholarship, and the mayor gets five more.

The program should benefit the state by helping needy students go to Louisiana’s most prestigious school. Letting politicians do the picking subtracts from those benefits when, for example, a representative from Bogalusa reaches out of his district to award his scholarship to the son of St. Tammany Parish’s well-paid district attorney.

Real reform would maintain the scholarships but take the decisions out of the hands of the political class completely.

Claitor’s second failing is his belief that we need legislation to make the program’s records public. They already are, and courts decided that issue 20 years ago after disclosures that politicians routinely awarded the scholarships to each other’s children.

The problem isn’t that we need a new law, it is that politicians are ignoring the law we already have. The Advocate and WWL-TV in New Orleans asked all 144 legislators and the mayor of New Orleans to release forms that disclose whether the recipients of their scholarships are related to elected officials.

So far, only four of them have: state Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, and state Reps. Pat Connick, D-Marrero, and Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, of New Orleans.

That leaves 141 legislators, and voters have a right to know what secrets they’re trying to keep before listening to promises to clean up their act.