One day several years ago, I left a paid parking voucher on the designated area of my dash and grabbed a bite. When I returned, a meter agent was writing me a ticket, nonetheless. When I pointed out the voucher, she said, “I don’t see that!” and continued writing the ticket. As I protested, she said, “You’ll have to take that up with City Hall,” and walked off. I did. The ticket was immediately thrown out.
A very similar scenario with infinitely higher stakes occurred on the last day of the legislative session in Baton Rouge, when legislators, influenced by a new group of Tea Party radicals who call themselves “Budget Hawks,” refused to recognize monies apportioned to Louisiana’s state college and university system. The result was that dramatic budget cuts left many state institutions of higher learning on the brink of financial exigency, a euphemism for bankruptcy. But in the aftermath of this intentional, absurd, and catastrophic oversight, Bobby Jindal did not use his veto power. Nor will a special session of the legislature restore this funding, whose simultaneous presence and absence is at the heart of the Budget Hawks’ bizarre argument: state income tax should never, ever be raised to address shortfalls in the state budget, yet if one-time money exists to meet the state’s obligations, as it often, fortunately, does, it should not be recognized as funding.
Press coverage of this event has been scant, at best, to the point that even dedicated researchers have to rely on statements from college and university administrators about what exactly happened to wreak havoc on the entire public higher ed system with so little notice.
It is understandable that administrators are closed-mouthed with the press. At a time when budget cuts have threatened their institutions’ existence, they are hesitant to suggest that they cannot continue to provide quality education. To do so would alienate students whose tuition is now footing the bill for almost everything on any given campus. Yet a clear message is mandatory. That message should be that no matter what state institution students attend, they will pay for the failure of the legislature to recognize funding. Tuition hikes are the primary means by which all state institutions are closing the deficits wrought by this ugly political shell game. Transferring, say, from UNO to SELU to Nichols in search of a bargain is futile. Class sizes are escalating. Faculty course loads are increasing. Marketable faculty are leaving the state system. Others are being laid off or furloughed. Student services are dramatically diminished.
Tuition is a tax even if it does not fit a widely accepted definition of the term, and in this state, it’s a tax that has risen by approximately 33% since Jindal entered office in 2008. While raising tuition has traditionally been a means of improving the quality of education, it is now, in Louisiana, the only means by which public education can continue its hobbled existence. That is a message that students, faculty, and administrators can and should relay to Bobby Jindal and all state legislators.