Legislator proposes reforming controversial scholarship program for private universities

Sterling Beard
Director of Journalism Training

  • Republican state Senator Dan Claitor’s bill would increase transparency for a program previously marred by scandal.
  • The bill is the first filed by any senator in the 2014 legislative session.
  • In mid 1990s, the program was used to give scholarships to political allies, family members.
  • In the first bill of the 2014 legislative session, a Republican state senator in Louisiana has proposed reforming a scholarship program that allows the state’s legislators to hand out full scholarships to a private university, a system which was once blemished by scandal.

    As reported by The Times-Picayune, Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge proposed a number of fixes for the Tulane Legislative Scholarship Program, which awards year-long, full-tuition scholarships to Tulane University, a university which costs $45,000 a year to attend.

    Each of Louisiana’s 144 legislators can give a scholarship in exchange for tax breaks that the school receives.

    In the mid-1990s, however, an investigation into the program revealed that some legislators were nominating their own children or the children of political allies. 

    “People would have more knowledge of the program. It shouldn't be an insiders program only,” Claitor said.   

    This past October, a Democratic state representative had to defend his decision to award the scholarship to the son of a longtime district attorney.

    Claitor would like to eliminate the program entirely, but could not file a bill to that effect because the legislature is not meeting for fiscal reasons. Instead, his reform bill is the first submitted by any senator for the 2014 legislative session.

    Claitor’s reforms include prohibiting relatives of legislators from receiving the scholarship and barring scholarship recipients and their families from donating to the election campaigns of a legislator who nominated them.

    It would also give preference to children of members of the armed forces, U.S. State Department employees, and law enforcement who were killed in the line of duty.

    Additionally, the bill would require that Tulane publish the name and district of each recipient’s nominating legislator, as well as the student’s name and hometown. Legislators would also be required to include information about the program on their official websites.

    “People would have more knowledge of the program. It shouldn't be an insiders program only,” Claitor said.

    The scholarship may be awarded to the same person more than once; Claitor’s bill would also require those who receive it for more than two years to complete double the number of community service hours that regular Tulane students have to fulfill.

    Tulane released a statement opposing the increase in service hours but responded positively to other elements of Claitor’s bill.

    The university and legislators have not discussed the bill.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @SterlingCBeard

    Sterling Beard

    Sterling Beard

    Director of Journalism Training
    Sterling Beard is Campus Reform's Director of Journalism Training. Prior to joining Campus Reform, he spent time as an editorial associate for National Review Online and as a staff writer at The Hill, where he served as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Lyn Nofziger Fellow and regularly appeared across the country on Fox News Radio to provide analysis of current events. In 2017, Sterling was named to The Chronicle of Higher Education's Influence List, one of nine people who "affected federal policy, campus culture, and the national conversation about education in 2017 — and who are likely to remain influential in the year ahead."
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