We all have heard or read or seen the stories in the mass media about the "miracle" in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina, which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the best thing that ever happened to education in that city, wiped out public education and the teachers' union. Now New Orleans is the only city where more than 75 % of students are in charter schools with minimal government regulation.
The Best Article Ever About New Orleans' Charter Schools Monday, Oct 7 2013
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Ed Reform in New Orleans…Truth Does Not Match Rhetoric Saturday, Sep 14 2013
In a recent story by The Lens , the keynote speaker made an impression on a particular charter school leader. I really do hope more privatizers “get it.” It’s important for those pushing charter schools and privatizing of public education to understand that their simplistic approaches prolong real solutions our children so desperately need. Their propaganda has swayed the court of public opinion, legislators and funders into believing that removing children from schools in their communities has totally transformed the public education system in New Orleans into something that works. This illusion of school choice that they are pushing is just the opposite of what Jeff Duncan-Andrade said to a room full of charter school supporters at the recent Louisiana Association of Public Charter School Conference. To think that by simply taking children out of their neighborhoods, and dressing that up as “school choice,” it would transform a school system, is irresponsible. I’m glad they had someone like Duncan-Andrade speak at their conference. As an education advocate and public school parent, I’ve tried to tell charter supporters that this was flawed thinking, to no avail. What’s important now is what these charter school advocates do with what they heard from Duncan-Andrade.
I am glad that Elizabeth Ostertag of the Net Charter “Alternative” School felt that Duncan-Andrade’s message hit home. Ostertag was thinking of the recent murder of 18 year old Leonard George. George lived about a mile away from where I live in a quiet Gentilly neighborhood. Situations like this always lead me to make a quick calculation about how old the child was right after Hurricane Katrina. I then wonder about the child’s post Katrina educational experience. How many different schools has he attended since returning after the storm? Why was this young man at this school to begin with? The Net is an alternative school. What went wrong in George’s post Katrina educational experience that precluded him from attending a traditional high school. Based on reports from family and neighbors, it sounds like his Mother, Christine George, a police dispatcher, who was also slain, was a wonderful person . So let us not do the “blame the parent” thing. Post Katrina, Leonard George would probably have been in the 5th or 6th grade. These 8 years after Katrina have been enough time to transform how he learns, if you want to believe the old public school system messed him up. Based on his address, he may have been a student at Bienville Elementary School, Nelson Elementary School or maybe even Waters Elementary School. However, none of those were options in his neighborhood right after the storm. Even if they were open, he would not have been guaranteed the right to attend any of those schools because we no longer have a right to the school closest to our homes, or a neighborhood schools. The KIPP Believe Charter School would have been the middle school if it had come back to that area post Katrina. KIPP Believe currently operates in the uptown area of New Orleans, not the area that served students from Phillips Junior High School, the school KIPP “tookover.” Nelson has become a charter school and it still struggles as a “D” rated school. Bienville was not opened until recently as Arthur Ashe Charter school, it too is a “D” rated school. The nearest high school is the “C” rated Lake Area high School, which is an early college high school, or the “F” rated John Mc Donogh High School. John Mc Donogh is now a charter school operated by Future is Now Schools and was recently the subject of a reality series on the OWN network. However, George ended up going a little further away from home to attend The Net, an alternative school, why? I would guess that school options and his personal adjustment to post Katrina living were factors in his life that contributed to him being at The Net.
I was moved to tears by another news report about a trio of young perpetrators of crime recently. For every one of these tragedies with our young people, whether they are the victim or the perpetrator, I want you to look at how this post Katrina education landscape complicates the lives of these young people. It is time that those pushing the privatizing of public education, to the exclusion of neighborhood schools, start to recognize the part they play in the stress our young people and their families are dealing with. Perhaps the loss of Leonard George will lead more charter school supporters to rethink their position and begin to value what many of us value was we work to rebuild our lives after the horrible Katrina Disaster. A sense of belonging in our own neighborhoods, surrounded by the people we know care about us goes a long way in helping us adjust after the disaster. A horrific disaster was not the time to experiment with dismantling a public education system. It was a time to give the children a since of connectedness and normalcy. I wish charter school advocated operated by an oath to “first do no harm.” There was much to fix in our school system, but the price paid in the lives of children is too high a price to pay for the mediocre results we are seeing 8 years after the state takeover of public education in New Orleans.
In fixing a public education system, it was hoped that we will no longer see young victims and perpetrators of crime the way we are seeing them in New Orleans today. It was hoped that our city would benefit socially and economically from the drastic changes and infusion of additional public dollars brought on my the state takeover. It was hoped that the lives of the people would be positively impacted and we all would be able to see the improvement without ever knowing the test scores of schools. Instead, in New Orleans, poverty has risen and in the last two weeks we’ve seen children die from violence or the conviction of children from being perpetrators of violence. Something is very wrong with the education reform picture in New Orleans. Our truths do not match the rhetoric of success.
Public Education in Post Katrina New Orleans Through the Eyes of Parents Thursday, Sep 12 2013
The landscape of public education has changed drastically in the 8 years since the State Department of Education took over the vast majority of the public schools in New Orleans. How those schools are doing seems to be a matter of perspective. However, based on the State’s own data, 100% of the direct run Recovery School District schools under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Department of Education are rated F. Of the charter schools that fall under the Recovery School District, 79% of those with letter grades are rated D or F. These facts indicate that the Louisiana Department of Education has produced a similar or worse result than the previous elected school board. However, we know that there is so much more that needs to be looked at in addition to scores. Listen to the voices of two parents who used the public school system before the state takeover and after the state take over. Parents Ashana Bigard and Nikkisha Napoleon are my guests on WBOK radio show Eyewitness to History.
A conversation with a New Orleans Parent about Vouchers and Choosing a School. Thursday, Apr 18 2013
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Last night I received a call from a very distress parent who was concerned about her child’s voucher school and it’s ability to provide a quality education for her 9 year old child. Sadly this child has already attended 3 different private schools and one charter school. This mother was surprised to find out that voucher school, which is a religious based school was one of the absolute worse scoring schools in the voucher program. She told me that when this school and others were promoted to her, they did not say anything about how students at this school had scored previously on state tests. This particular school is also on probation and may actually not be in the program if their test scores don’t improve significantly. In addition to these problems, the school is refusing to implement an Individualized Education Program (IEP) from the child’s previous school. I hated to tell her that as a private religious based school her child did not have a right to the same kind of special education services the child had in his previous public school. Services are limited to what the school has decided it would provide.
This parent has decided to seek another “choice.” When she told me the name of the next private religious based school she had chosen. I had to inform her of some of the experiences of other parents that I knew about who also had chosen that same school. The only thing I could do at this point was to give her a list of questions to ask the school so she could get a feel for the school’s ability to serve her child properly.
This parent was dismayed that in all of the promotion about the various school options in the voucher program, she did not have access about previous performance. No one told her that this school was on probation. This is a major problem with the voucher program.
I told the mother a little about the kinds of services that were possible within the public school system for a child with a disability. I advised her that a public school was her child’s best option to get the services he would need to be successful, based on what I know about the public and private schools available in New Orleans. As we explored other possible choice in the public school system, the mother told me about her experience in visiting a particular charter school. She was very much turned off when she asked to take a look around the school and the school was reluctant to show her around. She had a bad feeling because of this experience and did not list this school as one of her choices of public schools. I asked her if she knew that most of the Recovery School District (RSD) charters were rated D or F, she did not. She was shocked to find that 79% of the RSD charters are rated D or F. The RSD direct run schools were not even in the conversation with 100% of the direct run RSD schools being rated D or F. Our conversation moved “choices” within the Orleans Parish Public School system of schools and it’s charter schools. As it turns out, those were the only options of public schools that this parent felt comfortable exploring further. She realizes that her child needs stability and those schools have been very stable in the last 7 years since “reform” came to New Orleans.
Parental “choice” seems to be Louisiana’s major tool in reforming public education. Parents need adequate information in order to make informed choices. Even with this information, how does “choice” actually improve the quality of schools? Is it really school choice to continuously move children around in search of a better school option? Is this school reform? At what point do we get to reforming schools in our communities so parents don’t have to constantly move children around? When will the Louisiana Department of Education provide parents with adequate information to make an informed choice? When will schools open up their doors so that parents can really see how their schools operate rather than give them the usual PR propaganda? The good news is that this parent is now armed with information and will continue to seek a seat in one of the few quality schools within the Orleans Parish school system.
Meet the Parents Across America Founders: Karran Harper Royal Monday, Sep 3 2012
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This profile is part of an ongoing series of portraits of key Parents Across America members.
Karran Harper Royal’s articulate, impassioned advocacy for children has made her a familiar figure in her hometown of New Orleans and a sought-after speaker the national scene. In public meetings, government hearings, conference presentations, radio programs and television broadcasts, she cuts straight through the puffery that so often characterizes education “reform,” asking hard questions and describing the experiences of her city’s most vulnerable children in eloquent detail.
Karran’s activism began back in the 1990s, when her oldest son encountered difficulties in kindergarten, largely because he did not fit the expected student mold. She became his full-time advocate, and in the process learned to negotiate the complications of educational policies and bureaucracies at local, state and federal levels.
As her experience grew, she began to realize “that school wasn’t just broken for my son. A whole lot of little Khristopher Royals had not been getting what they needed.” So she expanded her advocacy to other children and families, working first for the city Mental Health department and then for the Pyramid Community Parent Resource Center, where she advises the families of children with disabilities.
Then came Hurricane Katrina. The floodwaters that devastated the city filled Karran’s Gentilly home with ten feet of contaminated water. Karran, whose family has lived in New Orleans for generations, came back to the city as soon as the floodwaters receded. “I’m a New Orleanian through and through,” she said. “We love where we live. There was just no question that we were coming back.” Karran, her husband and her sons stripped the house to the studs and built it back. Karran worked to rebuild her neighborhood school and joined several civic improvement groups.
As she labored to rebuild her home and her community, Karran accepted an invitation from the Louisiana Department of Education to serve on the Recovery School District Advisory Council. She had been concerned for years about the quality of public education in New Orleans, and hoped that the state’s control of schools would be a positive move. But she watched with growing dismay as the state used Katrina as an excuse to replace most New Orleans schools with charter schools.
Unlike U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who proclaimed Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” Karran quickly saw the flaws in the system, especially for children with disabilities. While traditional public schools were required to meet the needs of challenged students, most charter schools preferred to simply kick them out. In a city with few traditional public schools left, children who were expelled or pressured out of charters had only deeply troubled schools as options. And even in the charter sector, many schools were failing to deliver on the educational miracles they promised.
The all-charter system also destabilized neighborhoods, because families could not count on sending their children to a neighborhood school. Karran worked with families whose children were scattered among several different schools, because of the vagaries of charter lotteries. This lack of educational stability, she explained, introduced an “additional trauma” to already devastated neighborhoods and communities. “They’re destabilizing neighborhoods,” she lamented. “They’re destabilizing families.”
As well as helping individual families, Karran began to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center to document the problems with post-Katrina education in New Orleans. She connected with other Parents Across America founders after she spoke out against Arne Duncan’s Katrina statement. She was attracted to the idea of working to improve education policy on a national level because, as she pithily put it, “It’s from those policies that actions occur that impact children at school. If you have crappy policy, you’re going to have crappy action.” She believes that parents need to be organized to influence policy and its implementation at every level of our society.
Her own family serves as an example of the power of parent advocacy. Her oldest son, Khris, graduated from New Orleans schools and won a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston, which led to a successful career in music. Her younger son, Kendrick, currently attends a New Orleans public charter high school.
When Karran isn’t traveling to speaking engagements across the country or the world, she divides her days between the phone, the Internet and face-to-face meetings with parents and community members. She sees herself as an “information sharer” in the communities she works with, helping parents and community members to understand their rights and sharing with them strategies to participate effectively in their children’s education. “I can’t solve everybody’s problems,” she notes. “I want to give parents the information they need so they can solve their own problems and be strong advocates for their children.”
She is currently seeking to expand her political influence, by running for the District 3 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board. Go Karran!
Originally published by Parents Across America at http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org
Louisiana’s Worthless Accountability Plan for Voucher Schools Wednesday, Jul 25 2012
After all that fanfare about accountability, John White has crafted a completely worthless accountability plan for the voucher schools. It’s a shame that so many people on the BESE can’t read. All but 2 Board members voted to support the plan. Only members Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill voted to reject this plan and send White back to the drawing board to correct some of the concerns presented by various members of the public.
Worthless parts of the plan:
- If a school has less than 10 students per grade, the students results will not be reported publicly
- Unless the school has 10 participating students per grade level taking tests AND 40 students total voucher students in the school, the test results will not be reported
- Schools will only be required to score above 50 on the Scholarship Cohort Index
- John White can waive any provisions of the policy without seeking approval from BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) or the Legislature
This plan is problematic because it promotes gaming the system. The plan clearly says the schools will determine how many seats they will accept. All a school has to do is enroll 9 students per grade or less than 40 students total. John White said that this plan ensures that all schools are accountable. However, based on the criteria released, 75% of the eligible voucher schools will not fall under the guidelines of the accountability plan crafted by John White.
Over the past 4 years the Combined results for the voucher schools in the pilot program have had between 52-72% of it’s students fail to reach basic on the iLEAP and LEAP tests. What’s the purpose of a pilot if you ignore the results and expand the program even though it’s proven to be a failure?
The first stated purpose in the plan is “a common standard for student performance across the system of traditional public, charter public, and non public schools.” However, the plan as adopted completely ignores that purpose. Students in voucher schools will NOT be retained as public school students in 4th and 8th grades if they fail the LEAP test. Public schools are given a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F, but voucher schools will NOT receive a letter grade. The State Superintendent can’t waive any part of the accountability system for public school, but he can waive any provision in the accountability plan for voucher schools. Another purpose of the adopted plan is to uphold the public trust when public funds are involved. Clearly the accountability plan presented makes a mockery of the public trust.
Choice as a Red Herring Friday, Jun 22 2012
There’s so much talk about “choice” as a strategy in public education reform. This rhetoric distracts us from the real barriers to educating ALL children. The push for school choice at any cost is very destructive to the most vulnerable children, and it leads to the destruction our democracy. Public education serves a real purpose for the common good, just like police protection and fire protection. As neighborhood residents concerned about crime, we don’t buy private patrols in lieu of public police protection for all. We buy private patrols in addition to public police protection. Private patrols and private schools are private choices and should be funded PRIVATELY. When individual choice makes education funding inadequate for children whose parents are unable to choose for them, society will suffer, so does the child.
Let us not be fooled by “choice” as the great equalizer in improving public education. We must stop the reform rhetoric and move towards REAL reform.
Privatize!! Privatize? Tuesday, Nov 1 2011
Let nothing in this world evade Jindal’s plan to steer business to his cronies
Federal grant writers, and those who review the applications, rely on obscure language when applications are written and when terminated. The current rescinding of an $80 million grant to Louisiana is a case in point.
The original grant approval was based upon Louisiana’s agreement to bring high-speed Broadband to universities, K-12 schools, hospitals, libraries and other hubs in unserved and underserved areas of Louisiana. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency awarded a grant for a project that proposed to construct 900 miles of new fiber-optic infrastructure. The new network would have connected with the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, a more than 1,600 mile network connecting Louisiana and Mississippi to a national network.
A year after the state began the project NOAA, with $5.3 million of the initial $15 million in state funds and $431,747 in federal funds already spent, the State took control and changed the entire plan to rent rights-of-use from commercial providers. Problem is that there are no commercial providers to provide the services required, no 900 miles of fiber-optic and few commercial providers willing to invest $90 million to do so. Shades of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s when most farm and rural town families could get no electricity from existing electrical generating stations whose management believed it would take too long to recover the investment cost.
The federal rescission document includes in its reasoning the “…response outlines a solutions-based procurement approach that leaves key determinants to be provided by entities responding to its IRU (Indefeasible rights of use) RFP (Request for Proposals) and therefore does not provide the details required.” The withdrawal of grant letter also notes that the state “does not include information related to the methodology used for revenue projections related to fiber leases…”
If this sounds familiar one might remember how the administration unlocked the door to immeasurable riches by uncapping the number of charter schools allowable, or by granting charters to for-profit virtual schools that will make at least $1,500 profit on every student taken from traditional or other bricks-and-mortar charter schools.
The underlying assumption is that private interests will ALWAYS perform better than any government effort.
One might be caused to wonder how Lafayette Academy, in New Orleans, was forced to recover half of the $750,000 paid to for-profit education manager Mosaica by going to court to prove the company failed to perform. Or how Baton Rouge’s 100 Black Men were forced to fire for-profit Edison Learning when that company said it needed another $1 million to meet teacher payroll before the school year ended, and the end result was the schools they ran performed worse on state tests than did the prior school board.
Anything that lets private business interests into reap a harvest of state or federal tax collected funds is allowable. The Governor’s Office of Risk Management was working just fine and costing the state budget but $1.4 million a year. All of government was self-insured and the program operating efficiently. But, privatization brought a company that was to be paid up to $68 million over five years. That, after six months, was judged not to be sufficient so the price tag was raised to $75 million. At that point a company in Ohio (that was not the low bidder) bought the Louisiana-based company. We don’t know what the sales price was, but adding that $7 million in contract had to help justify the cost. Then the Ohio company realized it could come out even better financially if it sold itself to a company across the Pacific in India.
Then of course there is the much fought over move by the Jindal administration to sell out four prisons. The legislature raised sufficient havoc with that proposal that the Governor postponed action. The fact that the federal government is charged more, by one of Jindal’s chosen buyers, to operate its Oakdale prison than it costs to operate any of the four state-run prisons is apparently not relevant.
The same kind of initiative was tried in the effort to sell the Office of Group Benefits which successfully runs, on less than 3% of premiums, the health insurance coverage for state and local employees and state retirees. The low cost, plus the build-up of $500 million in reserve that is dedicated by the State Constitution for the purpose of insuring employee coverage are testimony to the soundness of the agency. Yet, the administration still harbors the intent of selling it out.
Perhaps it is interesting to note that the Jindal administration could not get its act together to take the offered $60 million in pre-K grants, but when the recently passed TOPA constitutional amendment freed up $80 of the general fund appropriation no thought was given to using the additional cash for the 56,000 eligible LA4 children. Instead Gov. Jindal urges that it be put into the kitty to lay fallow until some company comes along and needs to be lured to set up shop in Louisiana.
This is a guest blog by:
New Orleans: Beachhead for Corporate Takeover of Public Schools Friday, Oct 28 2011
The national media consensus is that New Orleans has discovered the miracle cure for urban education. Their conclusion is largely drawn from data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education, which obviously has a vested interest in emphasizing the good and ignoring the bad in the post-Katrina education changes. New Orleans is important in the national education debate, but not for the reasons we commonly hear; it is important because it is the beachhead for a national movement to remove schools from local democratic control and accountability. The privatization trade-off is that the public sacrifices control of schools for a privatized system that delivers better education for the same tax dollar. While the citizens of New Orleans certainly lost control of their schools, it cannot be said that they have received a better education, if that also means an equitable education, nor can it be said that it came at the same cost.
The corporate education forces that advocate a free-market business model have developed a “beachhead” strategy in New Orleans. Taking advantage of the evacuation of 90% of the population after Katrina, they set in motion educational changes that bypassed the elected school board and destroyed virtually all local democracy and accountability. They hoped to use New Orleans as a showcase for a model school system they could imposed throughout the nation; one based on privatizing public schools into charter schools and shifting dependence from veteran teachers to temporary and inexperienced Teach For America (TFA) recruits.
At the heart of the beachhead strategy was a quiet policy of subsidizing select charter schools to provide them with additional instructional resources and incentives to ensure increases in high-stakes test scores. But the flaw in the subsidy system was that the showcase model “successful schools” could not possibly be replicated on existing revenues throughout the district let alone throughout the nation. The corporations and foundations had only enough funds to bankroll a display system in one city—not in 50,000 schools nationwide.
From the outside, it appeared that the charters and TFA have “done more with less” when in fact—if they did more at all—it was through massive subsidies from the state, corporations, and foundations, all largely concealed from the public.
The funds to prop up test scores at all the state-controlled schools and charters rolled in by the millions after the state takeover of most of New Orleans schools. In a state that never spent much on public education, suddenly the takeover superintendent was given a blank check; he promptly doubled the expenditure per student. Teacher salaries were increased 50% in three years; the Broad foundation gave one KIPP school $150,000 to pay students up to $50 a week to behave (it worked: Angelina Jolie toured the school and remarked on how well behaved the students were). One charter school spent twice per pupil as the state funding formula by using corporate and foundation subsides. In-kind subsidies flowed into the charters: AmeriCorps volunteers were used as teachers although they were classified as tutors; Konica-Minolta annually handed out $180,000 in private high school scholarships at one KIPP school ensuring that it would attract hundreds of applicants to cherry-pick from; Bill Gates made a $3 million grant to plan charters and train charter CEOs and the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded $33.6 million to develop more charter schools in Louisiana
The outcome was a handful of showcase charter schools that the corporate reform advocates market as the norm. It was crucial for the corporate education reformers that New Orleans school privatization appear to succeed at all costs. Still, a dual school system emerged of privileged charters for a few and the vast majority of students in struggling schools. The new education system was like a Ponzi scheme: great profits were returned to a few at first, but in the end, the architects of the system could not sustain the flow of benefits to the majority. This month the state released a new grading system that gave a “D” or “F” to 83% of the state-controlled schools in New Orleans.
Why would Gates and Broad and Duncan promote a deeply flawed and unequal subsidized system as a national model? Because privatizing education is primarily about shifting education from the public to the private sector, and especially removing control of public education from urban Black governance. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that, John White, the new Superintendent of the state-takeover schools, “declared the old model of elected school board in urban districts to be a failed idea.” Urban, is this case, means minority-controlled.
One of the lessons of New Orleans is that once the schools are privatized, they are never returned to local public control. The worse, chronically failing charters have simply been given to another charter operator. Although the state legislature in 2005 promised to return the seized schools once they were brought up to standard, that promise was broken in 2008 when the law was quietly changed to allow the state superintendent to put conditions on the return of the schools. Those conditions in effect guaranteed that schools would not be returned. New Orleans is a case study in the misuse of the original concept of charter schools which were intended to provide autonomy to create replicable innovations at the same cost to tax payers; the charter movement was hijacked by the free-marketers who simply wanted control of education and the profits that come with that. Instead of serving the students with the greatest needs, showcase charters boost test scores by discriminating against special needs students and recruiting high-skills students and using special disciplinary policies to force out low-performing students.
The public can’t be blamed for the skewed view of the New Orleans education changes. The first year that post-Katrina promotional test scores were published by the local Times-Picayune, the paper published only the top charter school scores. They did not publish the scores of the “dumping schools” within these charter networks where, in one case, 93% of the students failed the 4th grade LEAP promotional test.
New Orleans is at the center of the national debate on education because it was forced to trade democratic control of education for the illusory benefits of increased efficiency and lower costs—the promise that privatization always makes. The danger is that rest of the nation will forsake its local control of schools in exchange for the same illusion. In the end, the charter and on-line schools will make billions and leave the public with schools that perform at the same level but cost more as foundation and corporate subsidies disappear. It’s a classic bait-and-switch game played on a financially stressed nation searching for low-cost solutions to high-cost problems.
New Orleans is not, as charter advocates would have us believe and Louisiana charter law mandates, an ”experiment,” in which methods are scientifically tested and bad ideas are discarded: to the contrary, it is a carefully planned, ideologically-driven corporate takeover of public education that ignores its failures and emphasizes marketing over evidence-based science. The free market has no problem selling products that don’t work as long as they turn a profit.
Hurricane Katrina was the perfect storm for the corporate education movement: No democracy, no unions, and a goal of 100% privatization of all public schools. It is no mystery why they chose New Orleans as their beachhead.
Guest Blog by:
Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Southern Institute for Education and Research
Poverty Skyrockets in New Orleans: 65% of Black Children Under Age of Five Living in Poverty Monday, Oct 17 2011
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Guest Blog: Original date October 17, 2011
On September 22, 2011, the Census Bureau released information from their 2010 annual American Community Survey based on a poll of 2,500 people in New Orleans. Not surprisingly, the report was ignored by the local mainstream media since it speaks volumes about the inequality of the Katrina recovery. Despite the billions in post-Katrina federal dollars for building schools, streets and bridges, and homes, the New Orleans poverty rate has actually increased back to the highest level since 1999. The survey revealed that 27% of New Orleans adults now live in poverty and 42% of children.
This recent development reverses the temporary decline in poverty rates reported in 2007 and 2008 surveys when the poverty rate was nearly cut in half compared to pre-Katrina numbers. Those early declines in poverty were probably the result of large numbers of low-income African Americans who could not afford to return or lacked housing and employment. The new spike in poverty, despite the increase in overall education levels in the city, signals that blacks are not sharing equally in the employment benefits of recovery dollars. Indeed, the city may be creating a new generation of chronically unemployed poor who were previously part of the low-wage working poor.
When President George Bush waived the prevailing wage provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act following Katrina, he provided employers with a financial incentive to hire low-wage outside temporary workers. State contracts to rebuild storm-damaged schools have provided little employment for black storm victims. The new rise in poverty can be attributed in part to the exclusion of local blacks from recovery jobs, including rebuilding school facilities and school operations. It is self-defeating to attempt to solve the long-term public education problems while children and their parents are pushed deeper into poverty by unfair education agency employment and contracting policies.
Separating out the numbers by race shows a profound and growing racial inequality. While the overall adult poverty rate is 27%, black poverty is nearly double the white poverty rate: 34% compared to 14%. The child poverty rate of black children under the age of five is an appalling 65%, compared to less than 1% for whites. The Census Bureau data indicate that there are 9,649 black children under the age of five living in poverty in New Orleans in contrast to only 203 white children.
But what is truly stunningly is that the survey reveals that that while there are several thousand African American males ages 12 to 15 years old living in poverty, the survey could not find a single white male in the same age bracket in poverty.
With all the triumphal rhetoric of New Orleans as a city rising from the dead, the Census Bureau data offers the harsh truth that that some have risen while others have fallen. We act at our own peril if we ignore these troubling developments; the problems of education and youth crime and violence cannot be solved as long as local blacks are unfairly deprived the economic benefits of recovery jobs and contracts.
Sources: Racial breakout data from U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2010 1-year Estimates (Fact Finder files); for general non-racial 1999 and 2007 data, Greater New Orleans Community Data Center which used Census Bureau reports, Numbers Talk Newsletter September 26, 2011. For Census Bureau fact-sheets on New Orleans income by race in 2010, see http://bitly.com/x1J1Be for black income and http://bitly.com/wbqhxP for white income. For GNODC report see http://bitly.com/oiN39S
Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Southern Institute for Education and Research