College students rally at Louisiana capitol, demand legislators 'save our schools'

About 75 students from LSU, Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College took to the steps of the State Capitol on Friday, calling on lawmakers to make students a priority over politics.

They marched across Capitol Park, chanting “Stand up, fight back. Higher ed under attack” and waving hand-drawn signs that said “Save our Schools,” “No funds, no future” and “Bobby Jindal screwed us over.”

Student organizers expressed concerns about losing scholarship dollars, cutting student services and the potential of entire campuses closing in the future without long-term commitments to higher education. Several students raised the issue of potential cuts to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, awards that cover tuition for in-state students who meet academic benchmarks.

“Now that TOPS funding is in jeopardy of being cut, our elected leaders are not upholding their end of the deal,” said Kendra Davis, an LSU junior. “We made the right grades, we made the right choices and we even came to the best schools. We’ve done our part, so why are we the ones being penalized?”

LSU President F. King Alexander also spoke to the group, asking students to continue to badger their legislators, to stay involved with the process and to come back to another higher education rally scheduled for Wednesday.

“Legislators listen to two groups of people,” he told them. “Groups that give them money and groups that vote.”

Earlier in the day, LSU announced its share of the total higher education cuts expected to be handed down for the rest of the fiscal year would range between $17 million and $41 million, representing a total cut of between 13 percent and 32 percent of its budget.

The state Legislature is currently in a special session called to close a historically large midyear deficit of more than $850 million. Without new revenue, all of higher education could be dealt a cut of more than $200 million, but at a minimum, it will be expected to lose $70 million.

A few state legislators attended the Friday rally and told students the threats to higher education are serious.

Baton Rouge state Rep. Pat Smith, a Democrat, told the group that many of her colleagues in the Capitol have vowed to oppose any tax increases.

“Do not let them draw a line in the sand, as I’m hearing some of them talk about, saying they will not raise new revenue,” Smith said, noting that taxes had to be raised in order to generate revenue to stave off massive cuts.

Peter Jenkins, a recent LSU graduate who co-organized the rally, encouraged students to ask legislators to be open to both tax increases and cuts necessary to spare schools.

“We’re going to keep pestering legislators until they do the right thing,” he said.

LSU student Zach Faircloth, harkening back to similar rallies at the State Capitol when higher education was facing cuts last year, said he’s frustrated by the annual emergency situation facing Louisiana’s post-secondary institutions.

“I don’t want to be back here next year doing the exact same thing,” he said. “It’s time for them to commit to long-term budget solutions.”

Student organizers are hopeful that a rally scheduled for Wednesday at the State Capitol, hosted by the council of student body presidents, will have a larger turn out.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.

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