Louisiana Governor and likely presidential candidate Bobby Jindal told a conservative audience in DC on Wednesday that public education is a fundamental pillar of American democracy.
“Why is it important to fund and support public education?” he asked the attendees of the American Principles Project’s conference. “Because if we want to keep the republic we have, our republic can only be as good as our citizens. So we need an educated population with critical thinking skills. We need to train citizens to be responsible, functioning adults. I always hear from parents, from the Chamber of Commerce, from business groups that we’ve got to fund education.”
But Jindal, whose mother studied at Louisiana State University after immigrating from India, is currently trying to cut the budget of the state colleges by as much as $300 million — nearly a third of the system’s current budget.
Officials in Louisiana on both sides of the aisle are blasting Jindal’s proposed budget cuts, saying they would cripple the state’s public higher education.
Republican House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, who has vowed to fight the Governor’s budget, wrote on Facebook: “Continuously cutting Higher Ed is the easy way out and it doesn’t make sense for economic development — which ultimately drives growth. We need to protect our schools!” He added in an interview with the Times Picayune: “Cutting higher education to that magnitude would not set us back years — it would set us back generations.”
Other lawmakers pointed out that Louisiana has already slashed its higher education budget more than any state in the nation over the past several years. While most states are currently spending 23 percent less per student than before the recession, Louisiana is now spending more than 43 percent less. At the same time, tuition in the state has shot up more than 50 percent. Now, school officials are predicting the new cuts will force entire campuses to close.
“This is a tipping point or ‘point of no return’ event,” Stephanie Grey, a communications professor at Louisiana State University, told ThinkProgress. “It’s a dividing line between a higher education that Louisiana can benefit from and take pride in and a sinking ship for which accreditation will be an issue. We need leadership from the governor, but he is missing in action as he has been for several years.”
The state currently faces a more than $1.6 billion shortfall, due in part to a dependence on oil revenues at a time of plummeting prices and Governor Jindal’s refusal to close any of the massive tax breaks that officials on both sides of the aisle have criticized as unnecessary.