The Legislature is currently in a special session (from Feb. 13-22) to make a decision about Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to use $119 million from the state’s reserves, or the “rainy day fund.” The task at hand is for legislators to mend a $304 million budget shortfall, and Edwards’ rainy day proposal would prevent further cuts from higher education to keep the program afloat.
Many House Republicans aren’t supporters of the plan because it favors a short-term solution, and some legislators criticized Edwards for trying to put another Band-Aid on the budget crisis. However, Edwards’ opposers want further cuts for a long-term solution, and that means further cuts to higher education. Instead of $119 million, Legislators Henry and Harris proposed only $50 million from the rainy day fund, according to The Advocate. In their plan, the state would pay for the difference with cutting higher education by $12 million, K-12 schools by $6 million, incarceration facilities by $9 million and health programs by $44 million.
This is the kind of news that makes me want to smash my head into a pillow and scream for 45 minutes. Cuts to prisons remain minimal in comparison to the cuts to health and higher education simply because Louisiana is the incarceration capital of THE WORLD.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Louisiana is first place in the U.S. for incarceration rates, with 38,030 in prison, a rate of 816 per 100,000. This is 100 points ahead of the second ranking state, Oklahoma. The U.S. leads the world in its incarcerations rates, so congratulations, Louisiana; you should feel proud of your humanitarian contributions to the world.
But you know what we don’t win at? Higher education. Our state ranks last among Southern Regional Education Board states, and students at our universities receive $3,600 less in total funding support on average than students from other SREB universities. We also rank 48th in educational attainment. On the bright side, we aren’t in 50th place.
Don’t you love living in a state where we win at imprisoning people and lose at educating young minds? I’m so proud to live in a place where my representatives care about important problems, for example, the fate of my entire future.
But the main point is this: it doesn’t seem to matter how much we tell our legislators that we simply cannot cut any more funding to higher education. Our Governor can advocate for us, and Dr. Henderson can advocate us, but it won’t do any good unless two-thirds of the Legislature votes to prevent further cuts. And House Republicans just don’t seem to sympathize, do they?