Louisiana Board of Regents seeks 20% funding increase for higher education

By William Patrick | The Center Square

The Louisiana Board of Regents is requesting a $219.5 million funding increase for colleges and universities, nearly 20% more than the state’s current $1.1 billion higher education budget.

The request was included in the board’s budget proposal for next fiscal year. An accompanying statement said the funding increase was necessary for COVID-19 and natural disaster recovery, as well overall education needs.

A goal of having 60% of working-age adults attain some form of postsecondary degree by 2030 also was cited.

“Higher education benefits our state and graduates in numerous ways of particular importance at this time, including improving employment opportunities, expanding our tax base and lifetime wages, and simultaneously decreasing the need for public assistance,” Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said.

If allocated, the annual $219.5 million increase would come from the state general revenue fund and nearly half would go toward pay raises and “legacy” costs, such as pensions.

The plan included $31.7 million in faculty pay raises for professors, associate professors, assistant professors and instructors. The board said the salary increases would meet the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) average and help retain and recruit “top faculty and researchers.”

Another $44 million would be allotted for staff pay raises and an annual $18.7 million appropriation would fund legacy and mandated cost increases – an item billed as a “Budget Stabilization Package.”

“For years, higher education was the only state entity that did not have its legacy and mandated cost increases annually reflected in the executive budget,” the board said in a statement. “Including these increases in the executive budget will allow institutions to retain state dollars for instruction, research and student support.”

The pay raise and legacy items amount to $94.4 million. A nearly equal amount, $92.2 million, is dedicated to student-oriented programs, such as the Master Plan Alignment student success initiative ($30 million), the Completers Fund training program for displaced workers ($30 million) and GO Grants ($10 million), a need-based aid program.

The Board of Regents approved the budget request Wednesday. The appeal will go to the state Division of Administration and be considered for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed budget ahead of next year’s regular legislative session.

In addition to the annual funding boost, the board also approved a request for a separate $200 million for higher education building repairs and improvements. That money would come from the current year’s budget surplus.

According to Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Louisiana lawmakers can spend roughly $400 million of the state’s $1 billion budget surplus next session. The surplus resulted from federal pandemic aid and unexpected economic improvement.

Speaking in Baton Rouge earlier this month, Dardenne said, “We’ll recommend that money be divided evenly between coastal projects, deferred maintenance projects within the state – primarily on university campuses – and the Department of Transportation and Development to go to the backlog that we have on our roads and bridges.”

The next Board of Regents meeting is scheduled for Dec. 15 and will occur jointly with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

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