Extra fee supports scholarships to study French
LAFAYETTE — Want the world to know you’re a Cajun?
Louisiana drivers can proclaim “I’m a Cajun” on their driver’s licenses, a new designation announced Monday that comes a few months after the state launched “I’m Cajun … and Proud” specialty license plates.
Drivers can get one or both by paying extra annual fees that help support scholarships to study French offered through the Council for Development of French in Louisiana.
The new driver’s licenses also will turn those who hold them into cultural ambassadors, said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, who sponsored the legislation to create the new “I’m a Cajun” driver’s licenses.
Mills said he envisions the Cajun designation as a conversation starter when anyone is asked to pull out their license while traveling or using a credit card or check.
“How many times do you have to show your driver’s license? We all think that it’s going to promote our heritage here,” Mills said.
The new driver’s license designation, like the specialty license plate, is available to everyone, not just bonafide Cajuns.
Having “I’m a Cajun” printed on a driver’s license costs an extra $5 a year above standard license fees.
The words are written in black below the driver’s picture.
The specialty “I’m Cajun … and Proud” license plates, which went on sale in November, cost an extra $15 a year above standard fees with $3.50 set aside for a handling free and the remaining $11.50 going to help fund scholarships to learn French.
The state has issued 537 of the specialty Cajun license plates in the past three months, according to figures from the state Office of Motor Vehicles.
“It’s great that we are able to be innovative in a small way to help CODOFIL,” said state Rep. Mike Huval, R- Breaux Bridge, who sponsored the legislation for the specialty license plates.
The legislation for the new Cajun driver’s license and license plates, approved last year, grew out of a push to shore up funding for programs that encourage the French language in the state in the wake of repeated budget cuts for CODOFIL, best known for its work to nurture French immersion programs in public schools.
The funding from the new driver’s licenses and license plates helps support scholarships offered through a foundation associated with CODOFIL but do not support the agency’s operating budget, which suffered a $100,000 budget cut in 2012 from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto pen.
The agency’s budget for this year is about $156,000, not enough to pay for its two employees and keep up with utilities, office rental and other expenses, CODOFIL President William Arceneaux said.
“It’s very difficult,” he said.
The Jindal administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year restores the 2012 cuts to CODOFIL, setting aside $300,000 for the agency.
Arceneaux said the challenge now is to make sure that money stays in the budget during the upcoming legislative session.
The Acadiana legislative delegation has identified French immersion programs in general and CODOFIL in particular as two of its top priorities in the upcoming session.