Gov. John Bel Edwards can argue that he has a mandate to do several things.
Fixing the budget mess tops the list. This, more than any other substantive issue, dominated the debate during his victorious campaign last fall. Right behind were several related priorities, from rebuilding public investment in higher education to expanding Medicaid to putting Louisiana’s interests above any one politician’s national aspirations. All of the above, of course, reflect a direct rebuke to former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s priorities.
The same can’t be said of K-12 education, an area where Edwards’ legislative agenda has, somewhat predictably, run into a ditch.
Edwards ran with early and strong support from teacher unions and local school board leaders, and he didn’t deny his priorities dovetailed with theirs. But he also didn’t do much to actively promote it to the larger electorate, particularly in the campaign’s late stages, when more people were paying attention. Edwards’ skepticism of policies to promote school choice were rarely featured in speeches or ads.
And indeed, the overall statewide results suggest that this wasn’t an issue that necessarily drove voters to him. The same electorate that handed Edwards a decisive victory over David Vitter also elected a Legislature that generally favors charter schools and other components of the school choice movement that Jindal had championed. It also elected a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education majority that supports the self-styled reform movement, and that is sticking with Education Superintendent John White even though Edwards said during the campaign that he should be replaced.
Weakening the governor’s hand still further is the fact that there are plenty of school choice proponents within the Democratic electorate, which is Edwards’ base. His early failure to get his favored House speaker choice elected cost him the opportunity to help install a friendly education committee in the lower chamber. And even in the Senate, where President John Alario made assignments aimed at giving the governor a chance to succeed, there was significant opposition.
So in hindsight, it’s no real surprise that Edwards tried to push an agenda this session that featured bills to limit charter authorization and curb eligibility for private school vouchers.
It’s also no surprise that he will emerge from his first session with little to show for it.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.