Re-investing in college students
The Board of Regents is asking for an additional $172 million for Louisiana colleges and universities in next year’s budget – a move that puts higher education on a potential collision course with K-12 schools in the annual competition for state dollars. The budget request comes after years of cuts in state support that was followed by standstill funding in the current fiscal year, and will need approval from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office and the Legislature. A decade of disinvestment in higher education has spawned tuition and fee hikes that shifted the bill for public higher education from the state to the students. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte breaks down how the money would be used:
Under the Regents proposal for college campuses, the new money would be directed to need-based aid for students through the GO Grant program, faculty pay raises, e-textbooks and increased spending on the TOPS tuition program. A significant portion of the money, according to the plan, would be spread across campuses to keep schools from raising fees next year. Amid years of state financing cuts, public colleges raised tuition and fees at rates that outpaced the nation. The Regents said charges on students increased 107 percent over the last 11 years. Louisiana’s average in-state tuition and fees at a public four-year college in 2017 represented 19.4 percent of a family’s median income, compared to 16.5 percent nationally, according to the Regents. For black families in Louisiana, tuition and fees account for 31.7 percent of median household income.
The Regents’ request comes as officials are looking for money to finance an overdue pay raise for public school teachers, who have gone nearly a decade without an across-the-board pay raise.
Unanimous juries uphold American values
There is broad bipartisan support for Amendment 2 on the statewide ballot, which would put Louisiana in line with 48 other states by requiring unanimous juries in non-capital felony cases. Former judge Miriam G. Waltzer, in a letter to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune,, breaks down the many ways in which this change makes Louisiana’s judicial process more fair and deliberate.
In 48 other states and in federal court, the government cannot take away a person’s liberty without the unanimous consent of 12 citizens. When a person’s freedom is on the line, the government should be required to convince all 12 jurors. When a law permits and encourages diversity of experiences, opinions and observations of jurors to be ignored and disregarded during deliberations, that law is not fair and just. When the voice of every juror counts, it ensures confidence in the reliability of the conviction for the community, victims and all involved in the process.
Lack of unanimous juries has contributed to Louisiana’s shameful incarceration rate, which until recently was the world’s highest, and other endemic problems in the state’s justice system.
Louisiana leads the country in wrongful convictions. More than 40 percent of all of those who have been recently exonerated were (mistakenly) found guilty by non-unanimous juries. The result: Until 2018, Louisiana led the world in incarcerations. The human cost is immense. Errors result in waste of taxpayer money. Non-unanimous juries deliberate quickly, leaving out the voices of thoughtful deliberation, sowing distrust in the judicial system and the right to a fair and impartial jury. Non-unanimous juries limit liberty, allow discrimination and undermine confidence in our justice system. Amendment No. 2 is not a partisan issue. On the contrary, it is a policy statement consistent with the highest ideals of citizen participation in a democracy.
Continued fee hikes in higher education
As state funding for higher education declined over the past decade, universities compensated by raising tuition and fees on students. The result: Louisiana universities have raised tuition more than any state in the country since the start of the Great Recession, which doesn’t count the additional money raised through various fees. Even though state funding has finally stabilized, the fee increases continue at the University of Louisiana System, which just approved another fee hike. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte has more:
The money will pay for faculty pay raises, expanded student services, technology upgrades and increased course offerings, according to information provided to the board. At least $500,000 will pay for additional need-based aid for students. … State lawmakers have complained about at increased charges across universities, saying they thought students would be spared such increases after higher education was shielded from state financing cuts in the current 2018-19 budget year. To defend increased charges, college leaders point out campuses took deep and repeated reductions over nearly a decade, and tuition and fee hikes haven’t fully offset the slashing. They say while campuses are digging out from prior cuts, they’re coping with mandated increases in health care, retirement and insurance costs and competing to hold onto faculty.
States need to restore TANF
For low income families with children, cash assistance is a critical part of the safety net. Unfortunately, the purchasing power of benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has fallen again this year, meaning families are paying more for necessities with the same amount of resources. Since TANF was created in 1996, the monthly cash assistance available to families has fallen by at least 20 percent in purchasing power in the vast majority of states. A new report from Ashley Burnside and Ife Floyd of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities documents the erosion:
For 99 percent of recipients nationally, the purchasing power of their benefits is below the level in 1996, when lawmakers passed the law that created the TANF block grant. Living on such limited incomes risks exposing children to excessive levels of hardship and stress, which research shows can negatively affect their health and undermine their development, limiting their future economic and social mobility. To improve all children’s chances of succeeding over the long term, states should invest more TANF federal and state spending in direct financial assistance for families (cash assistance), halt the erosion of TANF benefits, and restore the purchasing power lost over the past 22 years.
Number of the day
-20.8% – The inflationary erosion of cash assistance for struggling families in Louisiana between 1996 and 2018 . (Source: CBPP)