Louisiana Governor Proposes Reorganization of Spending on Community Colleges

BATON ROUGE, La.

An overhaul of the way Louisiana trains its workers that would revamp the state labor department and rework community and technical college spending was proposed earlier in the week by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The governor said work force development changes were needed to better match state training to meet the needs of companies that complain about a lack of skilled employees.

Though the state labor department can make some changes internally, most of the ideas would involve restructuring of spending and programs that will need approval of state lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session and from higher education boards.

“For us, the single most important issue in this regular session will be work force development, will be remaking Louisiana’s efforts to ensure our employers have the skilled workers they need and our people have the skills they need to hit the ground running,” Jindal said at a news conference.

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said the state has as many as 100,000 job vacancies, but not enough skilled workers to fill the openings. He said training programs in place weren’t coordinated enough to meet the demand of businesses.

“We believe the system we have today is essentially designed to fail,” Moret said.

Jindal stood with a representative of the state’s top business lobbying group, prominent Louisiana business leaders, labor interests, education leaders and lawmakers to announce the recommendations.

Among the most sweeping proposals, Jindal wants to change the name of the Department of Labor to the Louisiana Workforce Commission and reorganize its duties.

The 84-page bill, sponsored by House Speaker Jim Tucker and Senate President Joel Chaisson, would continue the department’s current responsibilities of doling out unemployment benefits and other federal labor programs.

But it also would require coordination of worker training programs with other state agencies, would involve contracting with regional boards for training services and would give those regional boards jurisdiction over federal worker training dollars.

It would revamp local work force investment boards to require they be led by business leaders and would change labor forecasting methods to require the forecast show the anticipated demand for jobs by occupation and industry.

The proposed labor department reorganization was based primarily on recommendations of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said Labor Secretary Tim Barfield.

Needing approval from higher education officials, Jindal wants a reorganization of state spending on the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. Rather than pay a flat rate per student, the governor wants to pay dollars per student based on the type of training they will receive.

He said the state could then target its money to train students in areas most sought by employers and encourage community and technical college campuses to offer more courses in high- demanded programs such as nursing or welding.

“It makes no sense for the state to pay the same for the training of a nail technician as it does for welders and other high-demand professions,” Jindal said. “We need to target the state’s investments to those programs that are meeting high-growth, high-demand areas and compensate campuses appropriately for high-cost programs.”

More than 52,000 students are enrolled statewide at community and technical college campuses. Brett Mellington, chairman of the system’s board, said the long-term goal was to more than triple enrollment at the campuses to 160,000 students.

The Board of Regents, which oversees public colleges in Louisiana, likely will consider Jindal’s proposed reworking of community and technical college funding in May or June, said Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie.

Savoie said the revamp shouldn’t cost the state more at first as existing dollars are shuffled around. Spending increases would come as enrollment increases, he said.

Jindal also proposed development of “centers of excellence” at the campuses to focus on key industries in the state and to spend $10 million in the upcoming budget year on a new training fund designed to match market demand for certain types of jobs.

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