- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A pro-voucher group is striking at Gov. John Bel Edwards in a new TV ad released Tuesday, criticizing him for a proposal to cut spending on the program in next year’s budget.

The ad from the Louisiana Federation for Children shows women accusing the Democratic governor of taking away school choice and of lying when he said he didn’t want to kick people out of the voucher program. The organization said the women are mothers who have children enrolled in private schools with the taxpayer-financed tuition.

In the ad, one mother says: “John Bel Edwards broke his word,” while another says, “He lied to me. He lied to my child.”

The TV spot and a corresponding radio ad are airing in the Baton Rouge area.

Edwards’ office called the ad a “blatantly false” advertisement from an “out-of-state special interest group.”

“People who purposefully mislead the public about issues as important as our kids’ education have absolutely no place at the table,” the governor said in a statement. “I’m working for solutions, and I won’t be distracted from the fight to save our education system.”

As he ran for governor, Edwards said he would not seek to end the statewide voucher program created in 2012, and his budget recommendations wouldn’t eliminate it.

The governor’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes a $6 million reduction in state spending on the voucher program, as Louisiana grapples with a deep budget shortfall that would force widespread cuts across state agencies.

The two sides disagree on the impact of such a cut, which would drop spending on vouchers to $36 million next year.

Edwards’ chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, told lawmakers the reduction wouldn’t remove any students, keeping the 7,100 existing voucher slots, but would lessen the amount paid to the private schools for tuition.

“Every student currently receiving a scholarship will continue to receive one,” Edwards said Tuesday.

The Louisiana Federation for Children said the cut would boot 1,000 students from the program.

“A 14 percent cut to the Louisiana Scholarship Program will cause hundreds of families who currently receive scholarships to have to find a way to pay tuition or be forced to return to underperforming public schools,” Ann Duplessis, president of the pro-voucher group, said in a statement.

Edwards has said he doesn’t want to make the cuts he included in his budget proposal and would ask lawmakers to consider tax changes in a summer special session to stave off the reductions. His office said the specific reduction in voucher spending was recommended by the Department of Education.

But the department said it had few places to choose when it was assigned its budget cut figure from the Edwards administration - and instructed to avoid reductions to early childhood education.

“Superintendent (of Education John) White has been clear in testimony to legislators that cutting scholarships is not only a problem for families but will achieve minimal savings for the state because students no longer able to choose a non-public school will enroll in public school,” education department spokesman Barry Landry said in a statement.

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