BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards insisted he is not singling out school vouchers for cuts as part of an effort to fix the state budget.
Earlier this week, the D.C.-based American Federation for Children released a TV advertisement that featuring mothers claiming the governor is breaking a promise to fully fund the voucher program, which allows students in failing schools to switch to private or parochial schools. (Watch the TV ad at the bottom of the story.)
"John Bel Edwards broke his word," says one unnamed woman in the ad. "He lied to me, he lied to my child," says another.
The group also launched a website called johnbelfailedus.com.
Under the governor's updated budget proposal for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the voucher program sees a $6 million to its $42 million budget. As it stands, the state is short an estimated $600 million next year.
"I never made a specific directive to cut vouchers. We are cutting across the board because that's what you do when you have a record budget deficit," Edwards said during a press conference Thursday.
He pointed out that other agencies are seeing budget cuts, including public schools, which is seeing a $50 million reduction.
Across the state, more than 7,100 students receive waivers. Close to 1,300 of them live in greater Baton Rouge.
The American Federation for Children claimed that the roughly 15 percent cut to the voucher program could lead to approximately 1,000 students losing their state money. The governor also disputed that claim saying that no one currently receiving a voucher will lose it.
However, he did say that under a current plan, all vouchers across the board will see a reduction of approximately 10 percent and the schools would simply have to eat the difference. However, representatives from the federation said that is not necessarily possible for the schools.
"They're already operating at a deficit in order to serve children other schools typically will not serve," said Michael Benjamin, the national director of grassroots advocacy and outreach for the American Federation for Children.
Instead, Benjamin said, parents would have to foot the remaining bill, which may not be possible for some. As a result, their children would effectively be removed from the program.
For some parents and guardians, the threat of seeing their scholarship reduced was frightening. That includes Sandra Watson, who said her 8-year-old grandson saw improvement after using a voucher to switch to a school with smaller class sizes.
"I think he may just get lost in a big public setting," Watson said. "I know it has to be a cut somewhere, but if he could just hold on and let us keep what we've got to go head on."
Barry Landry, director of public affairs for the Louisiana Department of Education, released the following statement regarding the proposed voucher budget reductions:
The governor once again reiterated his intention to call a second special session to raise more revenue. If so, the cuts to the voucher budget could be reduced.
Watch the TV ad from the American Federation for Children below: