Louisiana higher education leaders seek $220M budget boost

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s top higher education board is asking for a nearly $220 million state budget increase next year, saying the money would aid its work to boost the number of people obtaining degrees and professional certifications beyond high school.

The Board of Regents unanimously agreed to the 2022-23 budget request Wednesday, sending it to Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers for review as they craft state spending plans for the financial year that starts in July 2022. That budget will be decided in the next regular legislative session that starts in March.

The hefty ask — which would increase the more than $1.17 billion higher education budget by nearly 20% — comes after public college programs received a $97 million spending increase this budget year. Campuses also have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid outside of the state budget process.

“We are eager to maintain the momentum this investment has ignited as we work to accelerate talent development,” Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said in a statement.

She said lawmakers should consider the benefits higher education offers to the state, “including improving employment opportunities, expanding our tax base and lifetime wages and simultaneously decreasing the need for public assistance.”

The $219.5 million increase requested from the board includes $76 million for faculty and staff pay raises, which would come on top of a round of salary hikes this year. The faculty increases are aimed at getting professor pay to the Southern regional average.

Other dollars would be spent to expand science, technology, math and nursing programs and bolster efforts aimed at retraining displaced workers.

Nearly $25 million would be steered to cover the increased costs of the TOPS free college tuition program, provide more need-based aid to students through the Go Grant program and bump up spending on the MJ Foster Promise Program that helps adult learners go to community college.

The proposal also includes a $5 million increase to better investigate and respond to sexual misconduct and harassment claims on campuses and enhance student safety efforts. Lawmakers this year tightened misconduct response requirements on schools after a blistering independent report documented years of Louisiana State University’s mishandling of student allegations of rape, assault and abuse.

Other dollars would help campuses cover increased health insurance and retirement costs, boost research funding for university agricultural centers and other institutions, provide textbook assistance to students and bump up spending on early childhood centers on campus.

The higher education board also asked for $200 million from a $670 million state surplus from the recently-closed budget year to be spent on maintenance and repairs of campus buildings and help respond to disasters.

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