BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Two measures that would take lawmakers out of setting college tuition rates started advancing Tuesday in the Louisiana House.
The House Education Committee approved a bill that would allow boards for the state's four public college systems to increase tuition and fee amounts under a policy that would be established by the Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in the state.
The policy would include an outcome-based performance standard that schools would have to meet before they are allowed to raise tuition.
The proposal, by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, was approved 13-4.
Currently, the power to increase tuition and mandatory fees lies with the Legislature. It takes a two-thirds vote of lawmakers to boost tuition, and Louisiana is the only state in the nation with such a requirement.
Leger said higher education officials needed the flexibility to govern their budgets and that lawmakers needed to get out of the "tuition business."
The proposal "seeks to put us in line with 49 other states and take us out of the business of having to vote by a two-thirds majority to deal with tuition issues, instead give it to the experts who work in higher education."
The bill would set a tuition cap equal to the Southern regional average.
Backers of the bill said higher education officials need the flexibility to set tuition that would give them a predictable revenue stream. The bill was amended to include a caveat that state funding for higher education would not be decreased if tuition were to be raised.
While agreeing that higher education has taken financial hits, Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said tuition has steadily increased over the last five years. However, money from the state's general fund for higher education has consistently decreased, he said.
"That's not the component that's broken," he said. "We used to fund higher education from the general fund at 70 percent, now it's at 35 percent. Will we go to zero?"
Edwards voted against the bill.
A second bill approved Tuesday by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee without objection would take a different approach.
That measure by Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, would spell out in the Louisiana Constitution that college tuition and fee increases don't require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature like other fee hikes.
"We do believe this is a sound concept, one that has been repeatedly recommended by policy groups," said Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell, who said Louisiana's tuition rates are among the lowest in the South.
James Caillier, executive director of the Taylor Foundation which works on higher education issues, raised objections to Carmody's bill, saying it could make college out of reach for some students.
"We should try to make higher education as affordable as possible," Caillier said.
He said tuition shouldn't continue to be raised without the schools showing improved graduation rates and other performance measures.
The constitutional amendment would need support from two-thirds of lawmakers in the House and Senate, along with voters at a statewide election before it could take effect.
Both bills head to the full House for debate.
The education committee also approved a college tuition bill sponsored by its chairman, Rep. Stephen Carter, R-Baton Rouge, that would authorize a one-time tuition and fee increase by college boards in 2016.
However, the increase would have to be less than the average tuition and fees of Southern Regional Education Board peer schools and would come only if the school's graduation and retention rates were on par with its peer institutions.
AP reporter Melinda Deslatte contributed to this story.
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