By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – Can I say “I told you so” now?
Louisiana elected John Bel Edwards in the last gubernatorial election because so many voters just couldn’t stomach David Vitter any longer; standing in judgment of Vitter’s decades-old moral lapse (one which his wife had long since forgiven), enough Louisiana Republicans crossed lines and voted a liberal, Obama-Democrat into the governor’s office despite my screeching pleas that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
And now they feign indignation when Edwards isn’t acting like a Republican.
I won’t rub salt in the wounds because we have a long row ahead of us, but let me just point out the latest slap in the face from Edwards.
I can’t write the story any better than Ellen Carmichael did last week for the National Review. You must read her article. The gist is that during the campaign, Edwards promised to protect the state’s school choice program, but under the protective cover of a state budget crisis, Edwards is doing an about-face on that promise:
When the state’s budget pressures surfaced, Edwards saw his opportunity. He could send a signal to the public that its insistence on maintaining educational justice for impoverished families in the form of scholarships to private schools was simply not in line with the way he was going to run Louisiana. Teachers’ unions came before such kids as first-grader Nicole Jack.
The teachers’ unions, of course, supported Edwards heavily during his campaign. His wife was a teacher. I talked personally to many, many teachers who voted for him because they believed he would support them and they could not stand Vitter.
But what about these kids in failing schools? What about his promise to keep school choice?
Carmichael makes an excellent point when she says:
And he had his excuse: budget cuts. While the state allocates nearly $3.5 billion to its education department annually, Governor Edwards’s team felt it appropriate to take away the $4,800 scholarship from 17 families who wanted to give their kids a better life. Meanwhile, Louisiana spends $10,490 for each pupil enrolled in the state’s failing public-school system. If Nicole Jack cannot escape the school’s waitlist in time, her education will cost the state more than double what they insist they’re trying to save, proving yet again that it’s not about dollars and cents. It’s not about the kids, either. It’s about politics.
It is, in fact, over five hundred families affected, not just seventeen as the article mentions.
In place of school choice vouchers, Edwards established the Every Student Succeeds Act panel by Executive Order whose mission is to bring public schools back up to par. Joe Cunningham writing for The Hayride explains how this will work:
They’re going to say plans like the voucher program and expanding charter schools are taking valuable resources from the state and the schools, therefore they should be eliminated and attention turned back to the schools themselves. Which is what the school boards and teacher unions want. School choice is, after all, a direct challenge to how things are run. If public schools are forced to compete and improve, many could end up failing. But if there is no real challenge, then there’s less accountability. It’s not some evil plan to horde all the money and power so much as it is laziness on their part. The way things have always been is what’s gotten Louisiana into the educational pit it’s in…. Edwards and his supporters don’t want families to control where and how they get their education. They want the System to do it, and the System is far too concerned with itself. They must take money from the hands of the taxpayers and put it into the schools themselves rather than let families choose where it goes. You don’t get to choose. Let the State do it for you.
Of course we want all of our public schools to succeed and to strive for excellence but until the deep housecleaning that will make that happen occurs, there must be options for kids like Nicole Jack, who for one brief moment, saw a bright future ahead of her at a private Catholic school, only to have that snuffed out by a politician.
The bottom line is that the school voucher program truly helps kids with academic potential who are languishing in failing schools and in the end could read huge rewards, both educationally and financially, for Louisiana if not for crony politics.
John Bel Edwards is simply paying his debt to teachers’ unions on the backs of our kids.
Now, who didn’t see that one coming?
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.