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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Louisiana colleges make a hefty budget request for next year

Louisiana colleges make a hefty budget request for next year

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's top higher education board is asking to nearly double public colleges' state financing in next year's state budget, boosting the money that flows to campuses by nearly $636 million.

The Board of Regents acknowledged Wednesday that the request for the 2016-17 fiscal year was a long-shot when state lawmakers and a new governor will be grappling with deep budget woes. But board members and staff said the hefty increase is what would be needed to meet the state's workforce expectations, while coping with colleges' increased costs.

"It's a big request, but we have a large number of jobs to fill," said Roy O. Martin, chairman of the Board of Regents.

Public colleges are receiving $769 million in state financing in the budget year that ends June 30. The Regents board is asking for $1.4 billion in the budget year that begins July 1, saying they need to pour significantly more money into training people for high-demand fields, like computer science, engineering and construction specialties.

Regents, which oversees the divvying of state higher education funding, approved the budget request without objection, though some members of the board were reticent about the size of the ask.

Leaders of Louisiana's four public college systems helped develop the proposal, said Barbara Goodson, chief financial adviser for the Regents.

Goodson described the development of the budget request as "a very deliberate and thoughtful process" that updates an older cost formula, uses performance standards and prioritizes the jobs need forecast for the state. The request, she said, includes mandated cost hikes for health care, along with the increased price tag for operating research buildings.

She said the system presidents signed off on the request.

"They felt very strongly that now's the time to ask. We have to put our foot forward and say this is what we need to do for what you're asking in producing the number of graduates," Goodson said.

A higher education budget request is due to the governor's Division of Administration by the start of November, as the agency starts to work on proposals for next year's spending plan.

Colleges are seeking the sizable funding boost after years of budget cuts have stripped nearly $700 million in state financing from higher education since 2008.

The two candidates in the Nov. 21 runoff for governor — Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter — say they want to restore funding to the campuses and stop the slashing. But when they take office in January, they'll inherit a long list of budget gaps to address that will make immediate increases in higher education financing difficult.

The $1.4 billion sought by Regents doesn't include $301 million requested for the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, which administers the state's TOPS free college tuition program.

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