Gov. -elect John Bel Edwards tells CABL group: ‘We have to bring people together’ _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, left, greets former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, right, after Edwards spoke at the CABL membership meeting.

As an early and enthusiastic backer of a little-known state representative who ran for governor in 2015, John Bel Edwards, it's not surprising that former Gov. Kathleen Blanco approves of much of what her protégé has done in office.

But she did not miss a chance to push the initiative, by Edwards and others at the State Capitol, to seek funding for a teacher pay raise in the budget debates in the 2019 session of the Legislature.

She praised Edwards and the "bipartisan support" for a teacher pay raise in a talk after being honored by the Council for a Better Louisiana.

As a former governor, she also indicated that she knows raises cost money, and that it takes tough votes from legislators to make that happen. But she noted that the long-term costs of poor educational outcomes are substantial. These include either significant numbers of people not making enough money to live well, or people going to jail instead of contributing to society.

"It makes more economic sense to properly educate our citizens in the first place," Blanco said.

Having been the last governor to see education funding in Louisiana at the southern regional averages — not first place, but not last place, either — Blanco recalled her own battles over governance, particularly of the long-troubled Orleans Parish School Board in the early 2000s.

As governor, Blanco recalled, there were tough political fights over the creation of a Recovery School District — before the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in the late summer of 2005. Once the storms of 2005 passed, with most of the schools in Orleans destroyed, the RSD became a sweeping instrument of change in the city.

Ultimately, she said, the dramatic changes in Orleans have made it a model for urban school districts elsewhere, with test scores going up and better futures provided for students.

As a Democrat, Blanco deserves credit for pushing reforms that teacher unions, an important party constituency, were strongly against at the time. Today, obviously, unions are certainly with Edwards pushing a pay raise.

But in Blanco's talk, she took pains to note that critics of the old education establishment are too quick to say that tax increases for schools are "throwing money at the problem."

"What problems are not solved without more resources?" Blanco asked.

Louisiana is hobbled by the large number of its citizens who are poorly educated and as a consequence live in poverty. "Education is truly the enemy of poverty," she said.

True, and persistent investment in education will be needed to improve Louisiana's tragically poor outcomes in many schools.