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Jindal proposes boost to higher education funding

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After six years of suggesting cuts, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday he'll recommend that lawmakers increase state financing for higher education next year and steer $40 million to a new workforce development initiative on campuses.

Jindal offered a peek at the 2014-15 budget proposal that his administration will detail to lawmakers Friday. It will pay for state government operations in the new year that begins July 1. Jindal was surrounded by higher education leaders, who applauded the announcement.

"The state is in its best fiscal position since the start of the recession, the national recession in 2008. We now have the great challenge of meeting the demand for a skilled workforce that has never existed in Louisiana before. It's a challenge, but I know we can do it," Jindal said.

The Republican governor said his spending plan would boost higher education funding by $142 million, though $88 million of that will come from increased tuition costs on students that already have been approved by lawmakers.

But unlike in past years, Jindal won't recommend that the new tuition dollars replace state funding. Instead, the governor said he is proposing that the campuses get a stable base of state funding, with the new tuition income on top of that.

In addition, the governor's budget will include the $40 million state funding pool to help campuses with initiatives matching students to jobs and $12 million for other targeted projects at colleges.

"This is a tremendous step forward for the financial recovery of higher ed," said Clinton "Bubba" Rasberry, chairman of the Board of Regents, which oversees higher education policy in the state.

Higher education leaders have pushed for the governor and lawmakers to stop slashing state financing for colleges and universities, after more than $700 million in cuts since 2008. Tuition increases on students have offset only about two-thirds of the state funding losses.

The $40 million workforce incentive fund would be divvied up to research institutions that do "nationally-recognized commercial research" and to campuses that produce graduates in high-demand fields. To get the dollars, schools would have to work with private businesses and get a 20 percent funding match from industry, either through cash or equipment.

The workforce investment fund was proposed by the leaders of the state's four public college systems, and they praised Jindal's embrace of it.

"It's about the future that we want Louisiana to have 20 years from now," said Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana System.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, talked of the manufacturing boom in southwest Louisiana, where several multibillion-dollar industrial expansions are planned. He said McNeese State University is only producing one-third of the engineers needed for the projects coming to the region.

"If we don't have a higher education system to support the jobs coming in to this state, then all of the work that's been done over the last several years (to attract the projects) is for naught," Kleckley said.

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