One of the most important issues to many voters is education, and there are some key differences in how Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards and his Republican challenger Eddie Rispone approach K-12 education.
Funding and Pay Increases
Both candidates agree the state has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the quality of Louisiana's public education system. But they differ widely in how to address students' relatively low performance on national standardized tests.
Edwards has generally focused on raising teacher pay and increasing investment in the public school system. It’s therefore no surprise he has the support of the state’s teachers unions. This past year teachers got a $1,000 across-the-board pay raise, and there was a rare increase in the state’s per-pupil spending. Edwards says he's planning to raise teacher pay again if reelected. Many education activists say in order to attract and retain high quality teachers, raising pay is important.
Rispone is not necessarily opposed to teacher pay raises, but he’s told the Advocate he thinks pay raises should be targeted to teachers based on how well they’re performing, and what subjects they teach. This is a view that’s popular among many education reformers.
Both Edwards and Rispone say they want to increase state support for early childhood education.
Charters and Vouchers
Charter school advocates describe Edwards as lukewarm toward policies that support charter school expansion.
"I’ve never pretended that I feel like Governor Edwards is a champion of charter schools, but he himself says that he is not against charter schools," Louisiana Public Charter Schools Association Executive Director Caroline Roemer said.
"I don’t believe that we've been a target, and in fact there are things he has stood for and fought for that we’ve supported him on," she said.
When it comes to school vouchers, known in the state as the Louisiana Scholarship Program, Edwards has taken a firmer stance. After a joint investigation by WWNO revealed that Louisiana's school voucher program directs low-income students to D and F-rated private schools, Edwards pledged to reform the program if reelected. He says he wants to make sure F-rated schools are removed from the program.
Meanwhile, Rispone is firmly in the ed-reformer bucket. He’s pro-school choice, which means he favors charter schools and school vouchers, and education savings accounts. Rispone was chairman of the board of the Louisiana Federation for Children (LFC) from 2011 to 2018. The LFC is a branch of the American Federation for Children, founded by now-U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The Louisiana Federation for Children strongly advocated for the expansion of the school voucher program in 2012.
Rispone also been a big donor to political action committees (PACs) that support school choice candidates.
Tax Breaks For Donations To Private Schools
Rispone also supports another state program that sends low income children to private school. This is the Tuition Donation Tax Credit Program, through which people can donate money to send low-income students to private schools. The latest reports from the state show Rispone is the biggest single donor to that program. He gave more than $2 million dollars to the program in the 2017-2018 tax year.
Donors to that program get a 95 percent tax credit. So it’s possible that Rispone got a big tax break for making that donation.
Niether Rispone nor Edwards responded to our interview requests.
Entergy Corporation Supports WWNO's education reporting.