BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. John Bel Edwards told the board overseeing Louisiana's largest university system Thursday that he will propose to again raise spending on public college campuses next year, trying to steer more dollars to campuses that struggled through nearly a decade of state financing cuts.
As he spoke to the University of Louisiana System's board, the Democratic governor didn't place a dollar figure on the increase he'll propose to lawmakers in February for the new budget year that will begin July 1. But he pledged that he'll keep working to boost funding for higher education across his second, four-year term, which begins in January.
"It is essential that we to continue to invest in our critical institutions like higher education. Last year, we were able to do that, but it was the first time in 10 years there was a net new investment," Edwards said. "And we still have one of the lowest expenditures per student in the country."
The governor and lawmakers increased state spending on higher education in this year's $30 billion-plus state operating budget by $47 million, with nearly one-third of that going to the TOPS program to ensure it covered full tuition for all eligible students.
Edwards said the state must make new investments in its colleges to remain competitive with neighboring states, and he urged UL System leaders to use some of the new money that he'll propose for faculty pay hikes.
The governor said he's optimistic that the state will have more dollars available to spend in the next budget year, but just how much isn't yet settled. The state's income forecasting panel, the Revenue Estimating Conference, meets next week to discuss revising the projections for next year.
Higher education leaders asked for a $156 million boost in spending on its programs, to raise faculty pay, increase student aid and work toward the new achievement goals in Louisiana's updated higher education master plan. But it's unlikely Edwards will propose such a large state spending hike for college campuses, because he's also seeking new dollars for K-12 public school teacher pay raises and for early childhood education.
Edwards' budget proposal for next year is due to lawmakers by Feb. 7. Lawmakers will craft a final version of the 2020-21 spending plan in their legislative session that begins in March.