Education

Jun 24, 2014 6:51 PM by AP

Work begins on spending college incentive fund

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Higher education leaders have started working on how to divvy up $40 million set aside by Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers to boost efforts to match students to available jobs, but they learned Tuesday that some of the dollars have strings attached.

The money was put into the newly-created Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, or WISE Fund, to steer dollars to engineering, technology, research and other high-demand programs, tied to projected workforce demand across Louisiana.

Lawmakers poured three types of money into the fund, and two of them come with limitations on their use - in addition to the requirements set in state law.

Of the $40 million, only $17 million is general state tax revenue. Another $11 million of the money comes from the state construction budget, so it can't pay for salaries or recurring costs, but must instead pay for equipment, supplies or other capital construction.

A council set up to make recommendations for spending the money, which held its first meeting Tuesday, zeroed in on the restrictions surrounding the final slice of money put into the WISE Fund: more than $12 million in federal recovery dollars for hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

The disaster response money only can be spent in certain parishes, needs federal approval and must be tracked to show it was spent properly. At least 51 percent of the recovery money must be spent to help low- to moderate-income people.

"It is very much a balancing act," Barbara Goodson, the top financial adviser to the Board of Regents, told the council.

LSU System President F. King Alexander said the recovery dollars could pay for scholarships and tuition waivers for students in high-demand programs. University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley suggested the money could pay for program marketing and recruitment of students.

Creation of the WISE Fund was a top priority for higher education officials in the recently-ended legislative session. Jindal touted the incentive fund as a way to prepare workers for thousands of jobs coming to Louisiana in the petrochemical and manufacturing industries.

The first slice of money, $3.5 million, was earmarked by lawmakers to specific research, science and pharmacy programs.

The Board of Regents will have final say over which campuses get the remaining money, based on recommendations from the newly-created WISE Council. The council consists of leaders of Louisiana's four university systems, the Regents chairman and three state economic development and labor officials.

All campuses aren't guaranteed to receive fund dollars. Schools have to work with private businesses to get a funding match of at least 20 percent, either through cash or donations.

Money is supposed to go to programs with an identified need for workers or a priority on the research produced.

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