By Melinda Deslatte
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has refused to apply for a federal education grant, citing complex rules, the one-time nature of the dollars and intense regulation. Such bureaucratic complaints haven't stopped his administration from tapping into other pools of millions in federal cash to shore up its budget over the years, including this year's $25 billion spending plan.
If Jindal believes the rejection of the possible federal cash will make him look frugal or reinforce his repeated stance in opposition to federal deficit spending, he'd have to be hoping Louisiana residents know little about the state's ongoing budget and the billions in federal cash he's supported using since he took office in 2008.
The announcement last week that the governor's administration wouldn't seek a grant that could have brought in $60 million in early childhood education funding to Louisiana received strong criticism that Jindal was turning away dollars that could help disadvantaged children get a better education -- at the same time Jindal's talking about education reform as his key focus in the upcoming year.
Jindal leaders said the grant would worsen problems in a system for early childhood education that is inefficient and mired in red tape and that the grant wouldn't help address children's needs because it is one-time money for ongoing programs.
"We need to streamline the governance structure, funding streams and quality standards in our early childhood system -- and the grant would only make things worse by reducing flexibility and adding more micromanagement and regulatory obstacles," Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in a statement.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu called the Republican gubernatorial administration's decision "puzzling" in a state where one-third of all children under the age of 5 live in poverty.
"I hope your reasons for failing to apply for these funds are strong enough to justify these consequences," Landrieu wrote to Jindal.
She also disputed claims the Obama administration regulations contained too many strings for using the money, saying the grant contained "broad parameters and flexibility."
Last week's decision wasn't the first time the Jindal administration rejected federal cash. Agencies have turned down unemployment money, high speed rail funding and some health care dollars, citing costs to the state, strings attached to the dollars and paperwork.
But they've used other one-time education money and tapped into several sources of federal health care financing to plug gaps in this year's 2011-12 budget and the spending plans of previous years. So, certainly Jindal's no purist about federal dollars.
The state's use of federal funding did drop by $800 million this year, to $11.1 billion, but much of the loss is tied to depleting federal hurricane recovery grants, not an active attempt to shrink Louisiana's reliance on federal cash.
The administration used federal stimulus dollars to prop up state agency and college budgets in the last couple of years. When that money fell away this year, the governor's budget crafters found new pots of federal money for which Louisiana was eligible and plowed those dollars into the budget to offset cuts.
And every pot and pool of federal money comes with some sort of restrictions, bureaucratic hurdles and limitations, just like the kind that were the source of complaint on the early childhood education grant. It's unlikely the children who would have been taught through education programs funded by the $60 million would have known the difference.