Legislator proposes reforming controversial scholarship program for private universities

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. 

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.

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