The Louisiana Federation For Children Clearly Touched A Nerve With John Bel Edwards

That’s obvious given the blistering attack he leveled at the organization yesterday, in response to an ad campaign it launched accusing him of betraying Louisiana over the state’s voucher program.

Edwards’ press release sounds a lot more like what you’d get from a candidate or an advocate looking for media attention than someone attempting to govern a state…

Today, Governor John Bel Edwards issued the following statement in response to a new, misleading television ad from an out-of-state special interest group. The ad falsely claims that the governor proposed budget cuts to the school voucher program, when in fact, the department’s current budget proposal does not eliminate funding for existing scholarships at all. Given the historic budget crisis facing the state, the Department of Education recommended funding the current voucher program with no growth.

“This ad is a blatant attempt to leverage Bobby Jindal’s budget crisis for political gain,” said Edwards. “People who purposefully mislead the public about issues as important as our kids’ education have absolutely no place at the table. I’m working for solutions, and I won’t be distracted from the fight to save our education system.”

Facing a budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Gov. Edwards was constitutionally obligated to submit a balanced budget proposal to the legislature. By allocating the cuts across state agencies, Gov. Edwards tasked each department with deciding how the cuts would be made.

“Every agency head did their best to prioritize their funding based on their mission. It is important to recognize that every student currently receiving a scholarship will continue to receive one. This out-of-state special interest should direct its criticisms at the small group of legislators who failed to do the necessary work in the special session to fill the largest deficit our state has ever seen.”

During the first special session, Gov. Edwards proposed a comprehensive plan that would have stabilized the budget and avoided catastrophic cuts across state government.

The first paragraph is a flat-out lie, as Edwards without question proposed a $6 million cut to the state’s voucher program – going from $42 million to $36 million. He also proposed a cut of $8 million in state subsidies for non-public schools with respect to things like textbooks and transportation, without which some in the voucher program wouldn’t be able to afford to attend private schools.

Edwards is attempting to avoid LFC’s charge of a budget cut by using sophistry. He’s saying the cut actually comes from the state Department of Education. Let’s go ask Louisiana’s education secretary John White whether he agrees with that

“I would never have proposed this cut to this program,” White said in an interview last week.

Oh.

That colors, somewhat, Edwards’ statement about how people who tell lies about education shouldn’t have a place at the table.

Edwards is also denying that cutting the voucher program by one-sixth would put some 1,200 or so kids in the program out of the schools their parents have chosen for them. Two weeks ago his chief minion Jay Dardenne let this statement fly…

“It’s impactful, but our hope and our expectation is that we are not eliminating any slots, but we are reducing the level of compensation to the schools,” Edwards budget chief, Jay Dardenne, said of the voucher cuts during a presentation on April 12.

And Edwards is now saying that it’s the Department of Education’s decision whether to ask the schools for a haircut or to cut slots in the program. Edwards isn’t responsible, you see – John White is.

Which is about as blatantly disingenuous a position as anyone could take.

Let’s not forget that the voucher program costs the state about $5,000 or so per student per year. Louisiana spends a little over $10,000 per student per year on traditional public schools. The voucher program actually saves the state money on a per-student basis, and better than 90 percent of the parents of voucher kids tell survey after survey that they’re happy with the schools their kids are in.

In other words, if you’re going to save money on K-12 education in order to help balance the budget, you’d grow the voucher program considerably rather than shrinking it. What you’d shrink is the number of kids costing you $10,000 a year in traditional public schools.

But Edwards doesn’t like private schools. This was Edwards back in February

“I get painted as a person who is close to teachers unions,” said Edwards, while appearing on stage with a leader of the National Education Association. “I’m not going to distance myself.”

“We should not divert any resources away from our traditional public schools for unproven gimmicks, especially when we don’t have many resources to begin with,” Edwards told the crowd. “The worst performing schools in Louisiana that we know anything about are voucher schools.”

Then yesterday he says he won’t be “distracted” from the “fight to save our education system.” Meaning this guy is about the unions and the school boards and the bureaucrats. He’s not about the kids. If he was, he would have said so and he certainly wouldn’t be taking the position he’s taking.

And one other thing he says is reprehensible enough for comment – namely, to assail the Louisiana Federation for Children as an “out-of-state group.”

That’s a blatant lie. He can call them whatever he wants, but they’re not an out of state group. LFC has a headquarters in Baton Rouge, it has staff in Baton Rouge, it’s headed by Ann Duplessis, a former Democrat state senator from New Orleans, and its money comes courtesy of a bunch of wealthy businessmen in Louisiana – perhaps most prominently Eddie Rispone, the chairman of the board of Industrial Specialty Contractors in Baton Rouge and one of the state’s leading citizens and advocates for education reform. To disparage these people as The Other and somehow ban them from Louisiana because they disagree with him is illegitimate and beneath the office of the governor.

Frankly, it’s what sits on the floor of the governor’s new structure at his mansion. Now we know more about what that chicken coop is for.

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