Nearly two years after announcing her diagnosis of cancer Kathleen Blanco, former Govenor, passed away on Aug. 18. Blanco was a revolutionary figure in Louisiana politics, and her loss will be felt throughout the higher education community.
Robert Mann, Manship School of Mass Communication Political Communication Professor, served as Blanco's communications director during her time in office. From her campaign through her time in office, Blanco set education as one of the state’s top priorities, according to Mann.
“Like any school teacher, she had a passion for educating,” Mann said. "But you don’t have to have those kinds of connections to understand the value of higher education to a state’s economy and its culture.”
Governor Blanco was the first governor in nearly half a century to fully fund Louisiana’s colleges and universities. She also created a need-based aid program to help students from underprivileged backgrounds fund their higher education pursuits known as the Go Grant program.
“She recognized that there were people who had the smarts to make it in college but didn’t have the resources,” Mann said.
Even in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mann said the budget for higher education never suffered at all. Blanco set higher education as a priority and “she did a pretty good job of it.”
Blanco also helped to implement the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, which is housed at the University and connects Louisiana’s research universities. LONI also connects the universities to powerful supercomputers, which allows them to share innovations on a premier network.
However, Governor Blanco’s adoration and support for education did not only extend to higher education, but also education at all levels.
She expanded the Pre-K program to include all underprivileged kids to give all children a good educational start. She also improved wages for teachers, increased student test scores and developed a program to put laptops in sixth-grade classrooms.
The University will benefit for years as a result of the improvements made in early, middle and high school education with students entering LSU better educated and better prepared, both mentally and financially.