A pro-voucher group is launching statewide television ads that accuse Gov. John Bel Edwards of lying to voters when he promised not to slash state aid for the school assistance.
Edwards labeled the accusation blatantly false.
The ads, which begin Tuesday in Baton Rouge and elsewhere, feature three unidentified mothers of voucher recipients looking into the camera and saying the governor is breaking his word.
“He lied to me. He lied to my child,” one says on the 30-second spot.
In a prepared statement, the Governor’s Office denounced the ad.
“People who purposefully mislead the public about issues as important as our kids’ education have absolutely no place at the table,” Edwards said.
The ads are being financed by the Louisiana Federation for Children, which is a voucher advocacy group.
Edwards, a critic of vouchers, has repeatedly said he would not end the program and has made no such proposal.
However, the group contends he broke his word because they say his budget proposal would end the voucher program for about 1,000 students.
Vouchers are state aid that allows children from low-income families attending troubled public schools to qualify for state aid to attend private schools.
About 7,100 children, mostly minorities, get the assistance, which was turned into a statewide program under former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The state is spending $42 million for vouchers in the current year.
The governor’s proposed budget for the financial year that begins July 1 would trim that to $36 million, the group noted, and force students off the program.
The state is facing a $600 million shortfall in revenues and can only bridge the deficit with spending cuts during the current legislative session.
Exactly how the $36 million figure that is drawing fire came about is unclear.
In his statement, Edwards said officials of the state Department of Education recommended no growth for the voucher program.
He also said that, faced with a historic budget crisis, state agencies were allowed to decide how cuts would be handled.
“Every agency head did their best to prioritize their funding based on their mission,” Edwards said. “It is important to recognize that every student currently receiving a scholarship will continue to receive one.”
Barry Landry, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said in an email response to questions that the agency earlier received a mandated, targeted cut from the Edwards administration. He said that, because the department was told not to trim the state’s pre-K program and other factors, “$36 million remained for the scholarship program.”
“Superintendent (John) White has been clear in testimony to legislators that cutting scholarships is not only a problem for families but will achieve minimal savings for the state because students no longer able to choose a non-public school will enroll in a public school,” Landry said.
Ann Duplessis, president of the group criticizing Edwards, disputed the governor’s view that all current voucher recipients will be able to keep them.
Duplessis said in a prepared statement the proposed cut would mean hundreds of families will have to come up with private school tuition “or be forced to return to underperforming public schools.”
Duplessis said Edwards said in his State of the State address that he favored choice for parents whose children “are trapped in failing schools. He said the same thing to voters on several occasions while campaigning.”
As a House member, Edwards opposed the statewide expansion of vouchers in 2012 and sponsored bills to restrict them.
Edwards is pushing legislation — now stalled and possibly dead — that would trim eligibility to the aid to students attending D and F schools, not C, D and F as current law allows.
Critics have cited two recent reports that question the value of the aid. Duplessis said she did not know the exact costs of the ads other than that it is six figures.
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