Much Ado About Vouchers

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. Credit: Sue Lincoln.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. Credit: Sue Lincoln.

“We’ve got a special interest group from out of state that’s currently misleading the public about this voucher program,” Governor John Bel Edwards said at the start of his weekly press conference.

He was referring to an ad that’s been getting heavy play in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

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“John Bel Edwards broke his word,” the ad begins. Then another woman says, “He lied.” A third woman claims, “He lied to me. He lied to my child.”

Put out by the American Federation for Children – a Washington, D.C.-based school choice advocacy group –the ad is irritating the governor.

“I urge outside groups to instead focus their attention and efforts on the small group of legislators who are currently visiting cuts onto agencies across state government because of their refusal to engage in meaningful alternatives.”

After explaining that “simple arithmetic requires a ten percent reduction in the amount of State General Fund we spend on vouchers”, the governor went on to discuss other topics and answer reporters’ questions. Then, about halfway through the press conference, the women featured in the ad — along with AFC’s Louisiana director and several pastors — came in and tried to question the governor.

After the governor’s staff tried to repeatedly quell their interruptions, John Bel Edwards ultimately addressed their questions directly.

“Why are you trying to kill the voucher program?” one of the pastors asked.

“No, no, no. Find where I said that I was going to zero out vouchers. You-all are down there supporting folks who are calling me a liar,” the governor said, with some heat. He quickly returned to gentler reasoning, however.

“Understand that we have a $600-million budget deficit and that we are also cutting traditional K-12 funding by $50-million. And no one should lose sight of the fact that every year since its inception until this one, the per-voucher amount grew at 5-percent a year, while the MFP has been static.”

I spoke with Pastor Tom Watson afterward.

“I’m not officially connected with that group,” he insisted. “We came to get the truth about the voucher program.”

Yet he came in with them, so I asked him about the six figures the group proudly says it spent on airing the ad.

“Our priority as New Orleans faith leaders is that we maintain the voucher program,” Watson explained. “So there’s six figures out there that could help a kid get a voucher? Take the money and put it in education, rather than put it to attack someone.”

This story was originally published by WRKF on April 29, 2016.

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