After shedding light on the precarious standing of tuition increases over the past week or so, legislative leaders turn their sights today toward two of the most compelling issues that will move through the House Education Committee this session. Both proposals are from House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, beginning with the proposed UNO-SUNO merger. All of the involved parties agree it’s a racially charged debate, but expect Tucker and others to present a fiscal argument for why House Bill 537 makes sense.
The committee will also hear Tucker’s House Bill 549, which makes changes to last year’s GRAD Act. The program grants increased autonomy and flexibility in exchange for a commitment by colleges and universities to meet clearly defined statewide performance goals. Tucker’s bill, among other things, would grant more autonomy in terms of “budgetary management, capital outlay, and procurement.”
Related costs for the TOPS scholarship program have gone from $54 million in taxpayer money in 1998 to $139 million last year. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, says that stripping a program that lifts students to a new level of learning would “speak volumes about our society and culture.” As for bolstering TOPS, that appears just as shaky. There is a bill favored by Gov. Bobby Jindal that would take money out of the Millennium Trust Fund, originally created to protect the state’s tobacco settlement windfall, to underwrite TOPS. But its passage isn’t guaranteed. Although many people support TOPS, Tucker says, the transfer would require a two-thirds vote, since it’s a proposed constitutional amendment. “It makes it a high hurdle in the process,” he says. —Jeremy Alford