An in-depth look at the six proposed amendments to Louisiana’s constitution have been made available by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which is an independent voice, offering solutions to public issues in Louisiana through accurate, objective research and focusing public attention on those solutions. PAR is a private, nonprofit research organization founded in 1950.
The first two amendments are addressed in today’s issue. More information on amendments three through six will be covered in future issues of the Minden Press-Herald.
1. Establishes new requirements for local registrars of voters current situation
This amendment would allow the Legislature to enact additional qualifications for those applying for vacant registrar positions and create guidelines for local governing authorities seeking and hiring a new registrar of voters. The amendment and associated legislation does not apply to any registrar already appointed.
A vote for would require standards of professional and educational experience for local registrars of voters and more public disclosure in their hiring process.
A vote against would Leave the existing job requirements in place and allow local governing authorities greater discretion when filling registrar vacancies. Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana
As technology continues to evolve, registrars of voters will need to have the skills and aptitude necessary to utilize innovative tools and instruments on the job. Voting and voter registration is becoming increasingly digital in nature and we must ensure that individuals in these positions can maintain voter registration lists, register voters appropriately, appoint and train staff and volunteers, and help conduct early voting. Some parishes have not posted jobs appropriately or have used nepotism to fill openings.
These qualification requirements will help shake Louisiana’s historic reputation of patronage and incompetence. The package of legislation was unopposed.
Requirements imposed by the new legislation tied to the amendment may still set the bar too high and prevent competent and capable individuals from serving as parish registrars. This problem may be particularly problematic in rural parishes where registrar offices consist of just the registrar and one assistant; because education and work requirements are lower for those having previously served in a registrar’s office, an assistant may have a serious and unfair advantage when a sitting registrar retires.
This amendment may be unnecessary as registrars already have access to appropriate training after being appointed to the position. This training program is fairly intensive, requiring a minimum of 12 courses of 12 hours in length within five years, maintenance of a yearly rating of “excellent,” and work experience requirements. Registrars and staff are schooled in strategies necessary to perform their duties effectively. If these educational standards are not met within a five-year time frame, the registrar will lose certification and the additional pay associated with it.
2. Tuition and fee autonomy to college management boards current situation
Public higher education management boards had the autonomy to raise or lower tuition rates for schools in their systems until a 1995 constitutional amendment defined public college and university tuition as a “fee” imposed by state agencies and therefore subjected all rate changes to legislative scrutiny and consent.
This amendment would allow the higher education management boards to set annual tuition and fee amounts without legislative approval. To provide a sense of scale, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that a 1 percent increase in tuition would generate approximately $12 million in additional revenue for higher education. The actual increase would depend on how much each board increased tuition. Tuition and fee increases would cost more for students and their parents while also providing additional funding for colleges and universities if enrollments do not fall steeply.
A vote for would let higher education management boards set annual tuition rates and fee amounts for colleges and universities without legislative approval.
A vote against would preserve the state Legislature’s authority over tuition and fee levels.
Louisiana remains one of just two states that do not allow colleges to make autonomous decisions regarding tuition and fee levels at their respective universities. It is the only state that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to change tuition and fees. Because the Legislature is sometimes slow to act, public universities across the state are often unable to price themselves in a competitive manner or raise enough tuition revenue to deliver appropriate education services to their students. Among the many considerations, the state’s colleges must factor rising competition for students, mounting competition to recruit and retain superior faculty, growing expectations from industry for better prepared graduates, annually escalating pension liability payments, and the prospect of the state’s general fund appropriation decreasing in the future. The Legislature may also allow political considerations to outweigh academic concerns when deliberating on tuition rates. Louisiana can expect colleges and universities to be more efficient. Because Act 18 of the 2016 Regular Session sets TOPS awards at 2016-2017 levels, colleges will need to stretch dollars as far as possible before increasing tuition for students now paying more out of pocket. If granted the freedom to set tuition rates, colleges may elect to charge students in some degree programs different rates per course hour than those in other programs. The ability to impose differential tuition rates on degree programs with higher instructional costs (e.g., business, health care and engineering programs) will allow schools to match revenues more effectively with costs, improve program quality, and respond to market demand for various types of college degrees. For those who argue higher education should be more business-like, this authority would force colleges to reassess efficiency across their operations.
There is little evidence in recent years that the Legislature would not raise tuition when appropriate. As stated earlier, tuition has almost doubled since 2007. If colleges still feel that tuition levels are too low, they can make a case to the Legislature. The state Legislature has a responsibility to ensure that all Louisiana children have access to a quality and affordable learning experience. Instead of passing on tuition-raising autonomy to the boards of supervisors, legislators should focus on increasing direct investments to public colleges and universities to ensure that schools are able to provide the best education possible rather than allowing colleges to become less affordable. Louisiana is not as different from other states as it might first appear.
While Louisiana might be only of one of two states that directly controls tuition, other state legislatures exert indirect influence. Giving boards the ability to differentiate tuition rates between degree programs may also put valuable degrees out of reach for low-income and minority students. As the price of tuition increases in these fields, demand may drop and less revenue may actually materialize. Competitive programs in relatively more expensive programs such as business, engineering, and health care might also become further dominated by students from affluent families and could run counter to the state’s workforce needs.