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Disagreement remains on how voucher cuts rolled out

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.

Voucher backers say the reduction will force about 1,000 students off the rolls.

The Rundown: May 5, 2016

Louisiana Legislature Bobby Jindal The Advocate

Today in The Rundown: Gov. Edwards talks the possibility of a constitutional convention; House moves to punish “sanctuary cities,” State workers may not get pay raises; and more.

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Days until the 2016 regular Louisiana legislative session ends: 32

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Extras: Gov. John Bel Edwards talks to Rotary Club

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club on Wednesday and fielded several questions from area residents about various issues.

john bel edwards rotary chickens god budget louisiana legislature

Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks to people after the Rotary Club meeting in Baton Rouge on May 4, 2016. (Advocate photo: Elizabeth Crisp)

If you missed the main story from Edwards’ appearance read it here.

Here are some other items of interest:

Passenger rail

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edwards was asked at the Baton Rouge event about his support for a commuter rail that will connect Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

Edwards said he sees the effort as part of ensuring that Southeast Louisiana becomes a “super region.”

“Today, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are competing against one another,” he said.

He said that rail would allow people to better take ownership of both cities — living in one, working in the other; or at the very least easier visits.

“It will serve the state well,” he said, “but it is going to be difficult.”

Human Trafficking

Edwards recently attended the groundbreaking ceremony of a home that is being built for victims of human trafficking.

The home, which will be dubbed Metanoia, will have four Catholic Sisters (“wonderful, wonderful people,” Edwards said) living there to care for 16 young women who are rescued by authorities — either state or local police.

Edwards said it’s likely the girls placed at Metanoia will be victims of forced prostitution and launched into an impassionate talk about the problem that persists in Louisiana.

“As they are rescued, we don’t really have a place to make sure their needs are taken care of,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be a tremendous asset to the state of Louisiana.”

Edwards said he has learned about the ills of human trafficking, and its spike around major events, including when Louisiana hosts the Super Bowl or other attractions that often draw hundreds of thousands of people.

“When we have people coming to Louisiana, there are folks out there who are perverted enough to want theses sorts of things and there are people out there who are mean enough to accommodate them,” he said.

Edwards made several references to prostitution during the governor’s race as he ran against U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who has been dogged by a prostitution scandal for the past several years. But the Rotary meeting offered a chance to speak more deeply on the topic.

He praised the faith-based approach of letting the Catholic church lead the charge here for helping victims, and said that the goal is to treat victims’ physical, mental and spiritual needs when they are placed there.

“I hope and pray that they never have need to put one young lady there,” Edwards said.


The speech to Rotary was noticeably more spiritual than Edwards tends to be, marked with many references or allusions to religion and God.

The references to human trafficking victims’ spiritual needs were not the only time he turned to God.

When asked by a woman what the crowd could do to help the state prosper, Edwards urged them to call their state legislators. “Don’t forget to pray,” he added.

Asked about mental health services, Edwards launched into an explanation of how Medicaid expansion will help prisoners when they are released break the cycle of imprisonment because they will be able to get mental health treatment.

Releasing them without health care options, he said, ” happens not to be the Christian thing to do.”


Edwards was introduced by Board of Regents Chairman Richard Lipsey, a Rotary Club member.

Lipsey praised Edwards as a straight shooter and said he has come to consider the new governor “a friend.”

“He’s taken the high road but it hasn’t been the easy road,” Lipsey said. “He tells it like it is. He stays on the issues and makes sure he’s very clear on the issues.”


Before Edwards spoke, the Rotary Club was entertained by a joke about chickens and popcorn.

Edwards took the podium and joked about the now infamous chicken coop that he’s had erected on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion.

“I went out at 7 o’clock this morning to feed the chickens,” Edwards joked. “It never occurred to me to feed them popcorn.”


Edwards’ speech also was preceded by a plea for blood donations. A member of the Rotary club told the story of his daughter whose life depended on blood transfusions.

Obviously touched by the tale, Edwards told one about his oldest daughter, Samantha, whose story was featured in one of Edwards’ memorable campaign ads last year.

Edwards and his wife, Donna, were informed while she was pregnant that Samantha would have spina bifida and were advised to abort the pregnancy. The couple declined, and the ad was used as an example of Catholic Edwards’ anti-abortion bonifides.

Samantha went on to graduate college and is getting married in three weeks (with a reception to follow at the Governor’s Mansion).

“We had no idea whether she would ever walk at all,” Edwards told the crowd, appearing to choke up. “It will be one of hte proudest days of my life to walk her down the aisle.”


The Rundown: May 4, 2016

Louisiana Legislature Bobby Jindal The Advocate

Today in The Rundown: Abortion restrictions head to the governor; medical marijuana reaches new high; Jindal talks Trump; and more. 

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Days until the 2016 regular Louisiana legislative session ends: 33

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The Rundown: May 3, 2016

Louisiana Legislature Bobby Jindal The Advocate

Today in The Rundown: TOPS changes head to the Governor; Edwards pushes Medicaid expansion and budget solutions; the bill that would increase the minimum wage in Louisiana is stuck in negotiations; and more. 

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Days until the 2016 regular Louisiana legislative session ends: 34

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Bobby Jindal attends White House Correspondents Dinner, won’t rule out future in public service

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal attended the White House Correspondents Dinner in DC this weekend as a guest of The Washington Times.

Jindal, who left office in January after serving as Louisiana governor for eight years, wasn’t a target of any of President Barack Obama’s jokes at this year’s event, which annually features DC elite and Hollywood celebs.

Jindal also attended the event in 2012 as a guest of POLITICO, but skipped last year’s dinner to travel to Iowa, laying the groundwork for his unsuccessful presidential campaign. He eventually dropped his run last November, after failing to gain traction in the polls.

The Washington Times reported on Sunday — after hosting Jindal at the event — that the former governor and Congressman, wouldn’t rule out a future in public service. When he left the governor’s office, Jindal said he’d continue to work with his policy think tank America Next but also left the door open to public service.

“I’m not saying I’ll never go back to public service. I did serve in Congress. But I prefer the executive branch. I prefer running things,” he’s quoted as telling the Times.

Jindal also offered up his advice for the remaining presidential hopefuls: “We have to do a better job of connecting with average voters. The support that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are getting illustrate the anger and frustration of citizens — and the fact that Washington is not working for the average American.”

Angelle poll shows Angelle way ahead in 3rd Congressional race

More than half of the voters in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District have a favorable opinion of GOP candidate Scott Angelle and would vote for him if the election were held today, according to a poll for which his campaign paid.

Angelle, who came in third in last fall’s gubernatorial election, and five others have said they would run in November to replace U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, the Lafayette Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Market Research Insight of Florida questioned 400 active voters in the 3rd congressional district in southwest Louisiana from April 18 to April 21 by landline and cell phone.

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed had incomes between $20,000 to $79,999, 74 percent were white, and 83 percent are over the age of 45.

Scott Angelle had a 52 percent favorable recognition among those surveyed. All the other Republicans in the race came in with single digit ratings.

Former Lake Charles Rep. Brett Geymann, who led the fiscal conservatives before having to leave the Legislature because of term limits, had an 8 percent favorable recognition.

Lafayette Republican Greg Ellison, who was in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years before founding Kitty Hawk Energy, showed 7 percent favorables.

Lafayette Parish School Board member Erick Knezek, a Republican, had 6 percent.

Former U.S. ambassador to East Timor, Grover J. Rees, a Republican, had 4 percent.

Republican Gus Rantz, president of Acadiana Management Group in Lafayette, had 3 percent favorable recognition.

When asked if the election were held today, 56 percent of those surveyed favored Angelle, 31 percent were unsure, Ellison came in second at 5 percent, 3 percent for Geymann, 2 percent each for Knezek and Rees, and 1 percent for Rantz, according to Angelle’s poll.

Angelle is one of five elected members of the utility regulating Public Service Commission. He also serves on the LSU Board of Supervisors. He was a close aide to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, serving as his secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and as interim lieutenant governor.

During the gubernatorial campaign, it was Market Research Insight that conducted the poll that first showed Angelle gaining ground on U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the Republican considered the prohibitive favorite. After a bitter campaign, in which Angelle and fellow Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne repeatedly called Vitter a liar; Democrat John Bel Edwards won the elections.


Southern University graduation to feature Cedric Richmond as speaker, honor students killed at party


U.S. Congressman Cedric Richmond was announced as the commencement speaker for the Southern University Baton Rouge 2016 Commencement.

The graduation ceremony will be May 13 at 10:30 a.m. at the F. G. Clark Activity Center; 528 students are scheduled to receive degrees.

The university will also award posthumous undergraduate degrees to Lashuntae Benton in therapeutic recreation and leisure studies, and Annette January in business management.

Benton and January were killed earlier this month in a shooting at a party at The Cottages in Baton Rouge. Police have said the two women were not involved in the altercation that led to the shooting and were innocent bystandards.


– Two dead in shooting near LSU’s campus

The Rundown: April 26, 2016

Louisiana Legislature Bobby Jindal The Advocate

Today in The Rundown: The budget shortfall has shrunk somewhat but the budget picture remains fuzzy; Lawmakers consider electronic driver’s licenses; and more.

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Days until the 2016 regular Louisiana legislative session ends: 41

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The Rundown: April 21, 2016

Louisiana Legislature Bobby Jindal The Advocate

Today in The Rundown: Louisiana looks to expand hate crimes protections for police and firefighters; Lawmakers recognize “Pro-Life Day” with anti-abortion bills; TOPS and medical marijuana bills move ahead; and more.

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Days until the 2016 regular Louisiana legislative session ends: 46

The News  Continue reading