Published: June 12, 2020
By: Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — A House committee unanimously supported a bill Thursday that would let state universities continue to increase student fees at a time when they are facing tens of millions of dollars in cuts in state support and in costs from the COVID-19 shutdown.
The bill, by Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, attempts to mitigate those impacts while also considering student concerns about rising fees.
The House passed another version of his bill last month, but the Senate surprisingly failed to act on it before the regular session ended June 1.
Zeringue’s original bill would have allowed colleges and universities to set their own fee levels until 2023. He adjusted it so that the ability to do so ends at the end of the 2021 school year.
Some legislators worried that families would be negatively impacted by rising fees during a pandemic, which has caused over 300,000 Louisianans to file for unemployment.
Despite a projected drop in tax revenues, the Legislature has largely been able to avoid major cuts in much of the state budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, by relying on roughly $1 billion in federal aid related to the pandemic.
But lawmakers are planning to cut the higher education budget by at least $21 million, even as they move to suspend various taxes and fees to help businesses at a significant cost in lost tax revenues for the state.
Several university leaders supported Zeringue’s bill at a hearing Thursday. They said they are still trying to determine how to handle virus-related costs that far exceed what they are receiving under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
The federal funds for each school were determined by the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants who were not enrolled in online classes before the virus forced students to switch to online classes exclusively. Half of the funds provided under the act must be allocated to students.
Read more at St. Mary Now