Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Higher ed "hysteria"; Students chime in; Public Defender crisis “a serious danger to us all”; and Better juvenile justice means more savings

Higher ed “hysteria”

As news of the budget crisis continued to unfold in the past week, no area of state spending got more attention than higher education. It’s easy to see why: TOPS payments were temporarily suspended, Nicholls State University announced the possibility of temporary closures, and Grambling University put its search for a new athletic director on hold.  But some legislators are now complaining that the grim situations laid out by college leaders are unfair and causing unnecessary concern among students and families. The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen has more:


“This is the first day of the (legislative) process and the news media is flashing all this stuff up and getting the people all worked up,” Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) said in a Senate education committee. “I just don’t think it’s fair.” But leaders of the state’s colleges and universities say they are merely telling the truth, putting out the budget proposals they were instructed to in the event that higher education is struck with potentially a $200 million budget cut that must be absorbed in four short months. At best, higher education is being told to expect a loss of $70 million for the remainder of the fiscal year, and that’s even if legislators agree to new taxes. … “We are far, far away from a situation, I’m talking about legislatively, that would force the closure of schools,” Appel said, warning higher education leaders of creating a “self-fulling prophecy” with their rhetoric. Other system leaders rejected accusations that they were sensationalizing the real impacts of budget cuts. … “We are not going overboard, we’re just telling the truth,” [Louisiana Community and Technical College System President] Monty Sullivan said.


To avoid the deepest cuts, Edwards needs support from the Republican-majority Legislature for his plan to raise revenues. After a first round of initial spending cuts and Edwards’ call for an immediate hiring freeze, the state still has a long way to go in fixing the deficit.


Students chime in

News of the dire cuts that might be in store for Louisiana’s colleges and universities has gotten the attention of students at LSU. The flagship is already dealing with fewer resources after years of disinvestment by the state. Previous cuts have affected the university’s students, faculty, staff, and overall reputation making it less competitive and less attractive to potential faculty and students. In response to the current crisis, The Reveille Editorial Board calls on students to actively resist any more cuts and emphasizes the uncertain future of the popular TOPS program:


If our elected officials appropriate money to fund higher education next year, they aren’t guaranteeing the state’s popular merit-based aid for all who qualify. If nothing changes, Louisiana will only have enough money to fund 25 percent of TOPS next year. If you scored below a 28 on the ACT, say goodbye to TOPS if nothing changes. … Contact your state legislators and the governor. Express your concerns to them, and let them know you’ll stand by your school when they make life-altering decisions. Tell lawmakers to set aside their differences to save our state. Right now, we’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re Louisianians who need to come together to make the tough decisions to save our state. … Worst-case scenario, they cut us by $204 million. We won’t come out ahead, but with your help, we may be able to get out alive.


Students have planned a march on the Capitol on February 19.


Public Defender crisis “a serious danger to us all”

Public defenders in Acadiana’s 15th Judicial District have lost so much funding from state and local sources that massive layoffs and pay cuts were the only option for the District’s leader, G. Paul Marx. Only 16 attorneys remain in the office to serve all clients in Lafayette, Acadia, and Vermilion Parishes. Clients who are currently incarcerated and those with the “greatest need” will take priority, while thousands will go unserved, which will lead to a growing backlog of cases that over-worked and underpaid attorneys simply cannot take on. Marx elaborates in a press release:


“Our clients, the middle class, the working poor, and the community will unfortunately bear the brunt of these cuts,” Marx said. “The Constitution guarantees the right to representation to any citizen accused of a crime, but we can’t represent them if we can’t afford it.” … Budget problems have become so bad that public defender offices in Louisiana’s 42 districts spent an average of just $214 per case in 2015 – a figure that covers clients accused of everything from traffic offenses to murder. … “This failure impacts not just our office, but crime victims, hard-working public servants, and public safety for our area. This is more than just our clients. The system serves all of us, and closing it because we don’t fund all the moving parts is a serious danger to us all.”


Advocates and attorneys plan to rally at the LSU Law School on Tuesday at 1 p.m., where they will submit petitions to the Public Defender Board asking for increased funding.


Better juvenile justice means more savings

Trying 17 year olds in the juvenile justice system rather than as adults could save the state of Louisiana $15 million to $20 million per year, according to a new study from LSU Health New Orleans’ Institute for Public Health and Justice. At least one bill, authored by Rep. Pat Smith of Baton Rouge , has been filed to move 17 year olds out of adult prisons and into the juvenile justice system during the upcoming regular session beginning in March. Danielle Maddox Kinchen with The Advocate has the details:


While the study says it could not complete a holistic cost-benefit analysis because of a lack of data, it predicted over the long run the state would see savings if 17-year-olds are kept out of the adult system. … [Public Health Institute Director Stephen] Phillippi said the state could expect major savings in just a few years, based off findings in North Carolina. “If we follow the same basic algorithm, in five years we could probably expect, being conservative, anywhere from $15 to $20 million in savings,” he said. Connecticut, which began the shift to include 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system in 2007, now reports an annual $2 million in savings.


Number of the Day

$472,000 – Budget cut for the state Public Defender Board, approved Monday by a House-Senate budget committee. The cut prompted the Plaquemines Parish public defender’s office to close indefinitely (Source: Nola.com)