Thursday, February 5, 2009

Higher education sweating out budget announcement

Federal bailout may be available

Louisiana's colleges and universities are sweating out the days until Gov. Bobby Jindal announces his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. When the governor announced a potential $2 billion budget shortfall last December, higher education was a prime target for cuts. Higher education, Jindal said, could face reductions of between $212 million to $384 million.

The reason? Unlike K-12 schools, higher education does not have constitutional protection for its budget. That puts colleges and universities in the same board with health care: both have huge budgets that lawmakers can cut by simple majority votes during economic downturns.

As this story by Advocate reporter Jordan Blum points out, the state's flagship university, LSU, could lose 30% of its budget and up to 2,000 employees system wide.

The college systems have already been directed to reduce their budgets by a total of $55 million for the current fiscal year, the report says.

Jindal is quoted as saying that extreme higher education cuts are unlikely, but that he wants to be sure that the systems are ready if reductions are warranted.

Higher education's salvation could come from the economic stimulus package under consideration in Washington. Current plans call for Louisiana to receive $945 million for school "financial stabilization." According to this article by Gannet reporter Mike Hasten, the money would not be available to K-12 schools because the state's Minimum Foundation Program has a funding formula that automatically increases every year. Higher education, however, would be eligible for the money.

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