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Board of Regents expects Louisiana to get $331M from feds for higher education

(The Center Square) – Louisiana is in line to receive an estimated $331.1 million for higher education through the most recent COVID-19 federal aid package, although the exact amount and the rules about how the money can be spent have not been determined, officials said Wednesday.

The total does not include an estimated $22.2 million for a fund Gov. John Bel Edwards will control, part of which can be spent on colleges and universities.

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act allocates $22.7 billion to higher education. Louisiana’s share is expected to be about $268.5 million in direct infusions for schools and an additional $62.6 million for institutions that largely serve minorities, according to a presentation at Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Regents, which oversees higher education.

The U.S. Department of Education has not issued rules to govern the spending, so the precise amounts schools will receive and the details about how the money can be used are uncertain. Some of the money must be used on emergency student aid, and it can’t be spent to build athletics facilities, an official said.  

Kim Hunter Reed, the state’s higher education commissioner, assured the regents the money would be used to help accelerate college completion. The regents adopted a master plan in 2019 that calls for more than doubling the number of degrees and credentials awarded annually.

“We want to leverage every dollar to meet this goal,” Reed said.

The regents also discussed Wednesday a resolution the House approved during last year’s regular session that called for the regents, the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the Department of Revenue and the state Office of Student Financial Assistance to come up with a uniform way to track students who obtain jobs and internships after graduating from state colleges and universities.

The limited amount of tracking conducted now depends on short-term agreements between agencies, according to Wednesday’s presentation. Longer-term agreements would be more effective, an official suggested.

Reed said state and federal privacy laws also create issues but said Arkansas has been able to protect privacy while maintaining a statewide data system. The Regents agreed to ask the Legislature to consider removing some of the hurdles.

“This is going to be extremely difficult to implement,” Regent Randy Ewing warned.

David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.