Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shoe on other foot: cuts pinch RSD, vouchers

The biggest story so far in this legislative session has been the disastrous budget cuts proposed by Gov. Jindal, reductions that affect health care, education, recreation, public safety and other important quality-of-life issues.

At the same time, legislators are proposing more and more expensive tax cuts, without asking for any new revenues to fill the budget gaps.

A sideshow in this disastrous legislative session has emerged. There is a budgetary tug-of-war underway between the governor's office and the legislature. In the process, some sacred cows are getting bled.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee slashed the Department of Education's budget, taking aim at programs favored by Governor Bobby Jindal.

In response, yesterday Gov. Jindal sent a couple of his minions out to defend his personal favorites.

Acting Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler made an impassioned plea to restore funding for nearly $10 million in public funds that are funneled to religious and private schools in New Orleans.

Tyler said that defunding the voucher scheme would force 1,600 New Orleans students "to return to failing schools."

That statement required an amazing reversal of logic. Only moments before, Tyler had told reporters that the state Recovery School District - which would presumably absorb the displaced voucher students - has made "remarkable" progress, and that "gains in the RSD are significantly higher than the state average."

Tyler also complained about a planned $11 million reduction in the RSD budget. The money would be used to pay for mandatory building insurance in the district. She said, "it's unreasonable and unfair to shift this burden to schools and students who are already struggling to overcome very difficult circumstances."

It seems that if there is one thing the governor and legislature agree upon, there will be no new revenues adopted during this session. The unfairness that Superintendent Tyler perceives is a direct product of that agreement.

Gannett reporter Mike Hasten covered the press conference for this story.

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