How Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed $6 million cut in state aid for vouchers came about remains in dispute.
When the controversy began, Edwards said officials of the state Department of Education recommended no growth for vouchers.
But emails provided to The Advocate in response to a public records request show that the Edwards administration on April 6 and April 11 made clear that, when the mandated budget cuts were done, dollars for the LA4 pre-K program were to be left at current levels.
That directive ensured that state aid for vouchers would have to drop $6 million, education officials said.
But Edwards’ lieutenant Jay Dardenne, commissioner of administration, said the governor has been unfairly criticized.
“There was always going to be some reduction in the voucher program,” Dardenne said in an interview.
“The governor was not going to leave vouchers whole when everybody else was being cut,” he said.
Vouchers are state aid for students from low-income families attending troubled public schools to attend private schools.
Most of the recipients are minorities and live in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
The state is facing a $600 million shortfall for the financial year that begins July 1.
The voucher controversy erupted when the pro-voucher group Louisiana Federation for Children launched statewide TV ads that accused Edwards of lying to voters when he promised not to slash state aid for the assistance.
The governor labeled the accusation blatantly false.
Two days later he said he proposed the 14 percent cut because of Louisiana’s historic financial crisis.
“It is the reality of the situation we are in,” he said.
Dardenne said even with the cuts it was understood the state would keep its current number of vouchers — about 7,100 — that their value would have to be trimmed and that schools that accept the aid would have to absorb the reduction.
“The governor absolutely did not go out to punish the voucher program,” he said.
Edwards has said the $6 million cut will translate into a 10 percent reduction in the value of the vouchers.