Every governor since John McKeithen at some point has threatened to cut higher education in the state of Louisiana, due to a lack of funding. Now Gov. John Bel Edwards, after only 14 days on the job has joined the club. The problem is, Gov. Edwards knew he was walking into a disaster. Some say, “He didn’t know how bad it was until he got in office.” To that I say, wasn’t he just serving in the legislature? A blind man knows the Louisiana budget crisis is bad, but Gov. Edwards promised that Southern University would not close under his watch. Now, not even a month in office the threat of making cuts to higher education exist. This is troubling for multiple reasons.
Gov. Edwards campaigned on a pro education platform, and now all the signals seen are flags on the play. Both LSU and Southern would face cuts, but the saying goes if LSU has a cold, Southern has the flu or pneumonia. The crazy thing about that is, Gov. Edwards owes his seat in the mansion in part to black voters. Over 90% of blacks voted for Edwards in the governor’s race that got him elected governor. Now weeks after taking office his administration is already sounding the alarm on cutting higher education.
I often wonder do leaders go to higher education and medical services first, because they often directly impact the poor. Why do I suggest that? Well, the rich contractors of Louisiana and the film industry aren’t targeted. The troubling thing is the very issues that Gov. Edwards criticized Gov. Jindal about seem to be his plan of action in his first month.
How does a state that consistently underperforms other states in education look at cutting the budget to education EVER?
The second flag on the play with Gov. Edwards is his unwillingness to fire John White the superintendent of the state board of education. On the campaign trail, Gov. Edwards said, “I have no intention of allowing John White, who isn’t qualified to be a middle school principal, to remain as superintendent when I am governor,” Edwards said in a prepared statement back in June of 2015. Now that he’s in office, he said, through his office in a prepared statement from spokesman Richard Carbo. “Gov. Edwards is committed to ensuring that the needs of our students and teachers are met,” the statement said. “He met with Superintendent White after the election and will continue to keep an open line of communication going forward regarding how to best address ongoing needs and improve the state’s educational system.”
Gov. Edwards did not appoint the previous fighters Carolyn Hill and Lottie Beebe back to the BESE Board which oversees the state’s school system. Now he’s unwilling to press to have John White fired. White who has been a supporter of opening charter schools around the state, which is detrimental to the public community schools in the black community, should be fired. On the campaign trail, Gov. Edwards had it right.
At this stage, I’m just waiting to see the John Bel Edwards that campaigned to be governor of Louisiana show up to work. All the signs are that he’s going to be a weak leader on the issues important to blacks in the state. This isn’t a time to play politics, and I’m sure the fact that he didn’t get his desired speaker of the house play into him trying not to start a fight – but we can’t afford to wait a year to get a governor that’s willing to stand up and make the necessary changes our state needs.
Real leaders understand that education should never be on the chopping block. Our universities need to be fiscally responsible, and that can be affected by the governor appointing the right people to the boards of these schools, instead of appointing top donors and friends. You don’t punish the future of Louisiana with more student loan debt, as a solution to the failure of their elders. You put on your big boy pants and dig out the solution. Gov. Edwards was the best candidate, but I have yet to see a sign he will be a great governor.
Furthermore, if we think north Baton Rouge is in trouble now, close Southern University and you destroy the potential for it to rise from the ashes. Killing Southern University is a death penalty to economic development in north Baton Rouge in that area. We need Gov. Edwards to go a different route, and all the black elected officials that were gladly out speaking up for our community to vote for him, should be vocal now in criticizing this talk about cutting higher education, the same way they did with Gov. Jindal. Unless they are all hypocrites….