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Hands off our education: Students take the state capitol and control of their futures

By Meghan Henoumont

 

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Students nodded their heads in unison, using their protest signs to fan themselves against the relentless sun. David Teagle, president of the University of New Orleans (UNO) Student Government, was delivering a speech on the front steps of the state capitol. Students banded together to protest the proposed budget cuts to Louisiana higher education. Standing in their school colors they drank up the deep voice that finally put words to their frustration.

“The people in this building need to hear that we are already angry…this is the breaking point…now I want ya’ll to help me remind them why we are here. Join me in saying no funds, no future.” The crowd did just, reverberating his words against the heavy cold stone building, gearing up for the battle to save public higher education in Louisiana.

 

 

Are you ready for your tuition to go up by $2,000? Neither were the 200 students who met with legislature on National Tax Day, April 15. Students from every Louisiana college system testified to legislature in Baton Rouge to oppose the potentially catastrophic budget cuts to the Louisiana higher education system.

Teagle prepped students outside before heading in to the meeting with legislators saying, “Now they will tell you it would be a miracle to find where that money will come from to save these schools. The real question is wouldn’t the miracle be to believe in our schools? What would Louisiana be like without these schools? That is the case. We have to invest in the future not just for the students here, today, on these steps, but for the one’s coming: our children and their children.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal and his administration have recommended that $600 million be slashed from higher education in wake of the $1.6 million dollar deficit in the state’s budget. The budget cuts are not new to Louisiana university students and professors. In the last 8 years Louisiana has cut more funding to higher education than any other state in our country.

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Once inside the state capitol building, several students couldn’t help but glare at a gold, ornately decorated elevator, which was labeled: For governor only.

 

Christy Duplea, a senior at LSU said, “Look at that, is he Willie Wonka? Is this what they’re paying for instead of our education…education is a basic human right, a gold elevator is…a slap in the face to all students and faculty members in the education system.”

As students filtered into conference room 3, face to face with the legislators who will be deciding their fate, the energy crackled. So many students came to testify, many had to be ushered in to a spillover room.

Vanessa Robicheaux, President of Delgado Community College’s City Park Campus Student Government, spoke to them about the effect, not only on herself as a college student, but of her 3 children. “I will be graduating with triple honors this spring and have been offered more funding to leave the state than continue at a university here in Louisiana. The thing is this will not only mean I will have to leave, but my 3 children [as well]. The state will not only lose me as a productive member of the community, but the future, my children.”

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A member of admissions to SUNO told legislature, “My boss does not know I am here today, but I had to come. I was working on my PHD at the University of Louisiana until the last run of budget cuts which cut funding to my program. I had to return to the work force. As part of admissions let me tell you what the worst part of the job is, that last year I had to turn away 300 students looking to make a better life for themselves: because there isn’t enough funding for more remedial courses, because we are failing students twice by not investing in their high school education and again by depleting resources for their higher education. The students who are affected are the low-income students who depend on the state, on you, to grant them the gift of knowledge.”

As moving as each testimony was it wasn’t enough to impress legislators. One of which, fell asleep in plain view. When Teagle and a fellow UNO student had their turn, a legislator asked them what they thought should be done instead of cutting higher education. Teagle replied, “There must be…no…there is somewhere else to get the money. There has to be, without what will happen to the future leaders of Louisiana?” He was told that was not an answer. The other student looked the legislator in the eye and said, “Tax the rich.” A cheer murmured through the crowded room with scattered applause. The elephant stomped through the room. He was not asked anything else. Until a decision from legislature is officially announced, the fate of higher education in Louisiana remains in limbo.

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