Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good cop, bad cop in the Jindal house

You have to admire the public relations machine behind the Jindal administration. Remember how the governor polished his conservative creds by knocking the federal stimulus program while at the same time building local support with staged photo ops featuring huge cardboard checks backed by stimulus dollars?

The same strategy is now at work on the education front. First Lady Supriya Jindal is featured in The Advocate for her initiative stressing technology in public schools. As reported by Michelle Millhollon in this story, Mrs. Jindal's admirable objective is the installation of computerized white boards to replace chalk boards in elementary schools.

Thus far, the article says, the First Lady's educational foundation has placed the $6,000 technology in about 160 classrooms across the state, at a cost of about $960,000. The very ambitious goal, Millhollon writes, is to wire up 4,000 classrooms.

That would cost some $24 million, to be raised by Mrs. Jindal's foundation. In comparison, the governor's frenetic nationwide quest for campaign funds has raised about $8 million over the past few years, making it seem unlikely that the 4,000 classroom goal is reachable during Gov. Jindal's tenure.

But the airy promise held out by one hand has already been trumped by the stark reality clenched in another: Gov. Jindal's budget cuts have led to a $30 million decrease in the Department of Education budget - the part of the budget dedicated to classroom technology.

And while the distaff side of the Jindal household upholds the "support our schools" banner, it looks like deep cuts might be on the horizon in the governor's budget.

That's the impression one gets from this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

Ironically posted in the same edition as the Supriya Jindal article, this one quotes Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue as saying that it will take a fight to keep education funded at the same frozen level as the past two years.

Despite rising costs and new mandates on local school boards, the Minimum Foundation Program has not received the usual 2.75% inflation factor, much less any new funding, in the last two fiscal years.

“I think we will have to fight (to keep the level funding),” Dastugue told Sentell. “I don’t know what the Legislature wants.”

Which is sort of a disingenuous comment. The legislature is only one of the three players to determine MFP funding. Gov. Jindal, whose executive budget plan will be released in a couple of months, will say how much he expects to spend on education next year.

Dastugue's own BESE board has a crucial role to play - it is BESE's responsibility to decide how much money should be in the MFP in the first place. BESE has not fought very hard for the MFP over the past couple of years, and don't expect the board to buck the governor this time, either. Dastugue is one of Jindal's three appointments to BESE.

The legislature does have to approve funding for the MFP, so it is disappointing that Dastugue says she has no idea what lawmakers have in mind. Shouldn't they be communicating about something this important?

So as BESE dithers while education burns, the governor's PR machine grinds relentlessly on, expertly positioning him for a brighter future than our state can anticipate.

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