AMITE--"Three months in the Legislature seems like three years," said State Rep. John Bel Edwards with relief at the Amite Rotary Club recently. "I don't think we made anyone happy. There are some bright spots."
He also spoke to Amite Chamber members in June on a similar theme.
Education is particular disappointment. His talk was frequently interrupted by interested Rotary members with their own questions and school stories.
"Over $250 million was the total cut in state support for higher education. State support declined by $425 million than we appropriated five years ago. How colleges were able to cut $25 million in June at the end of the budget year we'll never know," he said.
"When kids go back to school this fall they will see 10 percent increases in fees for the third straight year," he said. "Many fees are going up too." These include fees like parking, which Southeastern Louisiana University and other universities were authorized to increase.
As for elementary and secondary education: "We created a voucher system that is statewide," he said. "Overall, it appears that the schools that signed up received about 5,000 vouchers." Here in Tangipahoa Parish, there were 35 vouchers awarded:
--Mater Dolorosa Catholic in Independence.
--St. Joseph Catholic in Ponchatoula.
--Holy Ghost Catholic in Hammond.
--St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High in Hammond.
"How does moving 35 students out of public schools into four Catholic schools improve the quality of public education in Tangipahoa?" asked Charles Genco.
"There is no accountability in the voucher program. There's nothing in the law that says if you don't improve, you lose your ability to take vouchers. Some of these new schools around Louisiana that are getting vouchers have no lunch room. They have no computers. This is not a high-stakes outcome," he says, where failing schools taking vouchers lose the privilege.
Edwards' comments spurred more questions and more comments from Rotary members.
--"Where's the separation between church and state?" asked Jacquin "JR" Matheu, Tangipahoa Assessor.
--"This is the elephant in the room," said attorney Charles Genco. "We've got to figure out how to restore the family unit. We have to figure out what's going on culturally--then we can figure out how to weed out the bad teachers, bad politicians.
--"The grades in Tangipahoa Parish are particularly low--terrible," said Lee Gray, accountant.
"I agree we're not doing a good enough job educating the students of Louisiana," responded Edwards. "That doesn't obligate me to vote for something that is so-called 'reform,' " he said, criticizing the governor's plans.
"In November the people of Tangipahoa Parish will vote on whether you should have term limits on school board members," said Edwards.
Edwards criticized how corporate tax revenue under the governor has dropped from $1.4 billion four years ago to about $100 million today. "Who's getting the benefits and who's paying the freight?" The small business is paying the freight, he said.
"We committed $40 million to Tom Benson to buy the Hornets. I would rather have the Hornets than not but we don't need to fund this," he said.