LETTER: Louisiana education at crossroads

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

As a member of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, I have the honor of serving as chancellor of River Parishes Community College, one of several struggling to serve this great state of ours.

One of the benefits of working as a chancellor at such a fine school is that I get to see firsthand the difference that education makes in the lives of our citizens, and in the workplaces that continue to grow and flourish because of Louisiana’s recent improvements.

It is with this in mind that I hope to remind the citizenry of the River Parishes as to what will happen with the proposed cuts to higher education that are currently under consideration by the legislature.

In these difficult economic times, it is hard to imagine that the overall cut to higher education – a proposed $219 million – could be permitted, especially with $28.7 million of those cuts coming from the solution to our workforce woes: our community and technical colleges.

Since the impact on individual colleges ranges from more than 10 percent to almost 19 percent, I must ask if everyone realizes that we would be denying ourselves a workforce solution with these very cuts? That Louisiana will pronounce to the world that the workforce doesn’t come first in our state, and therefore, businesses might well need stay away? That by curtailing funding to our two-year schools, which are among the fastest growing colleges in the nation, we hint to the 60,000 enrolled students that they’ve made a mistake?

As the LCTCS president, Dr. Joe May, has noted numerous times, Louisiana must prioritize its resources in ways that lead to economic growth and recovery.

Along with the LCTCS Board of Supervisors and our college leaders, Dr. May is convinced that with so much ground gained over the past few years, there is too much at stake to simply allow these cuts to happen.

While there are no perfect solutions to finding dollars for higher education, there is one that closes, but does not eliminate, the funding gap. This solution is Senate Bill 335 by Lydia Jackson, which freezes the itemized personal deduction on individual Louisiana tax returns at the 2008 level (65 percent) for the next three years (2009, 2010, and 2011).

This proposed freeze is estimated to generate approximately $118 million per year for the next three years for higher education. This alone would reduce by more than half the impact of the higher education budget cuts and allow colleges to continue to operate programs essential to workforce and economic growth.

Please contact your legislators to remind them of the fundamental role higher education plays in the economic vitality of this state. Tell them as long as we don’t starve the solution, our colleges will continue to deliver – and make a better future for all of Louisiana.

Dr. Joe Ben Welch, Chancellor

River Parishes Community College