'We don't have the support': Gov. John Bel Edwards' schools legislative agenda mostly dead _lowres

AP Photo by MELINDA DESLATTE -- Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards talks about his first 100 days since taking office in January, at a press conference on April 19.

When Gov. John Bel Edwards stands in front of the schoolhouse door to block lower-income children from exercising educational choice, he does it with bravado.

Anticipating a standstill budget this year for Louisiana’s voucher program that allows children who did or who would have attended substandard public schools to enroll in a qualifying private or other public school, state education officials accepted nearly 1,500 new participants. But when Edwards forwarded a budget with a cut of several million dollars, softened to $2.5 million by the Legislature, that left around a third of the participants’ awards unfunded. Left in limbo, most of these families will be left without the educational choices they deserve for at least the first part of the school year.

Edwards had promised not to shrink the program but later said he meant all current recipients could continue in it. An Edwards spokeswoman said the Democrat had a plan to “fully fund” state government but that “some members of the Legislature” blocked it. Translation: enough Republican lawmakers thwarted Edwards’ plan to raise more taxes. But why not shift monies within the current education bureaucracy to fully funding of vouchers and other programs that create true innovation?

Edwards revealed his real intentions when he appointed a panel, formed by executive order prior to the budget resolution, to make recommendations for potential public school policy related to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law passed last year that guides funding preferences for education. Only the Louisiana Department of Education has formal authority to submit a plan to the federal government, although the law requires consultation with the governor, Legislature, local school districts, educators, and families.

So far, the appointees to the governor’s panel have been, disproportionately, representatives of the educational status quo. Why is such a committee needed in the first place? Undoubtedly Edwards himself can express his views personally to the Louisiana Department of Education before its report is final next year. He can also make his policy choices known through his appointees on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that must approve the report.

Apparently, Edwards has appointed a redundant group because he ardently has opposed school choice, such as the voucher program, in votes cast as a legislator and in rhetoric throughout his political career. With a BESE majority and Superintendent John White firmly supporting choice, Edwards’ initial selection of appointees to his committee suggests that he wants to establish an alternative forum to promote the failed education polices favored by teachers’ unions and other enemies of progress.

Unfortunately, this waste of resources will cost taxpayer dollars. Some panel members will receive payment for travel expenses that will come out of money apportioned to local districts by the state, and the governor’s office will bear administrative costs. While the cost may not exceed five figures, it’s money that could have better been spent elsewhere, such as on vouchers.

Obviously, Edwards’ priority is fulfilling the needs of adults and their special interests, with children as an afterthought.That’s both shameless and heartless.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana Government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at http://www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at http://www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter @jsadowadvocate. Email him at jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.