Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How bad could it get for colleges?; “Toughest one I’ve seen”; Study finds ‘serious flaws’ in early childhood plan and; PAR: Louisiana needs to focus on innovation

How bad could it get for colleges?

The Legislative Fiscal Office doesn’t mince words in its recent analysis of what the proposed budget could mean for higher education:


The funding level for higher education in the FY 16 recommended budget represents an unprecedented challenge for institutions and systems. The proposed reductions in SGF will necessitate wholesale closure of entire academic programs and possibly entire institutions. Closures of academic programs and possibly institutions will hamper the completion of studies by existing students and limit educational opportunities for future students. Closure of academic programs and institutions will take time and the state will incur significant costs to layoff employees and maintain unused buildings until unused facilities can be demolished, sold, or used for other state purposes.


According to the Fiscal Office, 75 percent of college and university budgets are for faculty and staff. That means that because of budget cuts, some campuses may have to declare “financial exigency” to be able to lay off tenured professors. Besides hurting students, the Fiscal Office says budget cuts could eventually cause accreditation issues. LFO’s full analysis of the House Bill 1 is here. Discussion of higher education begins on page 111.


“Toughest one I’ve seen”

Senate President John Alario–a four decade veteran of the Legislature–has surely seen it all by now, from the oil bust of the 1980s to the post-Katrina rebuilding boom. But on Monday, he said the current crisis was “the toughest one I’ve seen,” according to Greg Hilburn with the Monroe News-Star:


“The truth is most solutions will happen once we get back (to Baton Rouge) and everybody is in the same building — either one on one or in groups,” he said. “I don’t have a golden plan. If I did we’d have already done it.” Alario said solutions will almost certainly come through a combination of measures, including reducing or eliminating some some tax credits and budget cuts. “Certainly the tax credits are on the radar screen, but it won’t be easy,” he said. “People don’t realize how much impact the credits have until they’re taken away. But I also think (members) want to find ways to keep from devastating higher education and health care.”


Study finds ‘serious flaws’ in early childhood plan

The state’s proposed accountability plan for Pre-K programs and child-care centers contains serious flaws, according to a new report that makes six recommendations for improvement. The accountability plan is part of Act 3, a 2012 law that calls for a redesign of Louisiana’s early learning system. The new study, by the Policy Institute for Children and Stand for Children, says Louisiana would be relying too heavily on a single grade to judge quality and does not have enough safeguards to ensure that the reviews are fair and accurate. As The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports,

The state Department of Education plans to issue report cards that measure two areas. One would focus on teacher-child interactions, according to the report. The other would measure the aggregated scores of all programs in a network. However, the report said no other state relies on a single grade to measure how students and teachers are faring. “While teacher-child interaction is one important measure of quality, it must be combined with other critical markers of quality to be effective means to achieve improved child outcomes,” the study says.


PAR: Louisiana needs to focus on innovation

Louisiana’s universities need to focus more on innovation and the commercialization of research to help boost economic development in the state, according to a new report from the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR). Elizabeth Crisp with the Advocate has the story:

The report lays out dozens of recommendations to help streamline the pool of resources and research endeavors. Those recommendations range from the state appointing an innovation leader to revamping the Board of Regents Support Fund, which funds research. “We are thinly spreading this money around, and we think a lot could be done to improve the situation,” PAR executive director Robert Travis Scott said during a meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. The report calls on Louisiana’s four higher education systems and their boards to push economic development as a priority on campuses, while keeping focus on niche areas where schools can excel…“The outputs from research and development at Louisiana universities has been disappointingly low — even when adjusted for the amount of research dollars that have been invested,” [Scott] said.


It is unclear how much of a priority the report will be for legislators or college chiefs given the $1.6 billion budget shortfall that’s dominating conversation at the Capitol. One potentially discouraging sign is that Louisiana’s universities last year dedicated at least $32 million less to research than in 2009 – a 15 percent drop – according to the House Fiscal Division.


Number of the Day

$53,801,581 – Amount Louisiana owes FEMA for the state share of federal disaster assistance received since 2008. Louisiana has agreed to pay it back over five years, starting in July (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office)