The future of college

The future of college

America’s colleges and universities, many of which were under financial strain before the Covid-19 pandemic, have taken a severe financial hit as students and faculty members cut their semesters short. Public institutions and low-income students have suffered the most, as colleges have been forced into dramatic tuition hikes as government support has dwindled in recent decades. Claire Bond Potter, writing in The New York Times, says it’s time to overhaul the higher education financing model.

So what must change? To start, public colleges and universities should be truly public and tuition-free; private ones, a crucial and longstanding resource, should be discounted by the cost of a public education. Federal loans should be generous, interest-free and forgivable, perhaps in exchange for national service. … But addressing college costs is not just about lowering tuition fees. It is also about finding a way to make higher education financially sustainable. The first step to doing that is to recognize how education expenses like food, housing, salaries, health care, technology, libraries and pensions — as well as instruction — are tightly interwoven with the overall economy.

The Times’ Frank Bruni writes that the current educational divide between rich and poor could get much worse if nothing is done. 

The already pronounced divide between richly endowed, largely residential schools and more socioeconomically diverse ones that depend on public funding grows wider as state and local governments face unprecedented financial distress. A shrinking minority of students get a boutique college experience. Then there’s everybody else.


Literacy bill dies at the finish line
During the abbreviated regular session that wrapped up last week, the Louisiana Legislature approved tax cuts and credits for business interests worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. They did this despite a $1 billion budget shortfall and unprecedented financial uncertainty due to the ongoing pandemic. But lawmakers couldn’t find $2 million to finance a pilot project aimed at improving literacy among young learners by improving the ways schools in the state teach reading to kindergarten students. | The Advocate’s Will Sentell has the autopsy of House Bill 559

(Rep. Royce) Duplessis’ bill stemmed from a little-noticed report issued in January by the state’s Early Literacy Commission. The review spelled out the challenge in stark terms: Only 43% of kindergarten students in 2019 were reading at the level they need to, 54% of first graders, 56% of second graders and 53% of third graders. Even more alarming is the fact that things are getting worse.


The budget bills are moving
History tells us that budget debates at the state Capitol tend to generate less controversy when the revenue forecast is bleak than when Louisiana has plenty of money to spend. That’s certainly the case so far this year, as the House Appropriations Committee made few changes to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget recommendations before passing them to the full House for more debate. As | The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports, the administration is proposing to use $562 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to plug holes in the budget, which still leaves teachers without a pay raise and early childhood education without the money that was promised before the pandemic. 

State economists have said Louisiana’s economy could be much slower than the rest of the country because of the state’s reliance on oil, tourism and other service industries, all of which were roiled by the pandemic. One key question in the budget debate is whether Edwards will veto legislation the Republican-led Legislature passed to take $300 million in federal aid destined for local governments and instead give it to small businesses. Edwards has said he opposes the idea but hasn’t said whether he’ll veto it. 


A “tsunami” of evictions
Advocates for fair housing fear that thousands of Louisiana renters who lost jobs during the Covid-19 shutdown are at risk of losing their homes after a moratorium on evictions signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards expires on June 15. The Advocate’s Terry L. Jones reports that there’s a backlog of evictions waiting to be heard in Baton Rouge City Court once the moratorium lifts

(Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center spokesman Maxwell) Ciardullo said temporarily suspending evictions isn’t the solution given how severely the coronavirus affected the economy, forcing so many businesses to shutter and layoff or furlough employees as government leaders tried to mitigate the spread of the respiratory COVID-19 virus. Before courts are allowed to resume eviction hearings and decide whether to evict a tenant, he said, judges and justices of the peace need to ensure landlords aren’t bound by certain provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act the president signed in March. 


Number of the Day
$15.7 trillion – Total economic activity that predicted to be lost over the next decade, compared to projections at the beginning of the year – a “nominal” loss of 5.3%. (Source: Congressional Budget Office via The New York Times)