Stimulus package, budget and flexibility have helped rebuild schools
The Obama-backed economic stimulus package approved in February includes nearly $1.3 billion in education funds for Louisiana, of which $840 million has already been made available. In Mississippi, about $900 million in education funds have been announced, of which over $600 million has been made available.
Also, President Barack Obama"s 2010 budget included $30 million for counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas that were impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Funds could be used to improve education through such activities as replacing instructional materials and equipment; paying teacher incentives; building, modernizing, or renovating school buildings; beginning or expanding Advanced Placement or other rigorous instructional curricula; starting or expanding charter schools; and supporting afterschool or extended learning time activities.
This year, 16 schools have reopened in the New Orleans area for the first time since Katrina hit in 2005.
According to a May 16, 2009, story in the Times-Picayune, a major funding hurdle was overcome with the Obama administration when two Louisiana Recovery Authority officials persuaded federal officials "to allow for aggressive pooling of school rebuilding money expected from FEMA's Public Assistance program, so that dozens of older, badly damaged buildings could be mothballed or razed in favor of building a small collection of state-of-the-art campuses."
In May, FEMA earmarked about $150 million for rebuilding four public schools in the city. Construction of the schools has been under way for more than a year, and in August, the first newly constructed school, Langston Hughes Elementary, opened in New Orleans. Ultimately, FEMA expects to spend more than $640 million at the four campuses and on rebuilding or repairing other public schools in Orleans Parish. The pooled rebuilding allows them to consolidate construction on fewer sites.
In his promise, Obama mentioned school needs for "kids," so we assume he was talking about elementary and high school rebuilding and improvements, but we note that there has been some progress with higher education as well. The federal government also resolved a longstanding reimbursement dispute with flood-ravaged Southern University at New Orleans in July when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the university would get $42 million in additional grants to help rebuild (bringing its poststorm federal aid to $92 million).
According to "The New Orleans Index," which tracks the recovery of New Orleans, public and private school enrollment has continued to grow, and reached 78 percent of pre-Katrina levels by the spring of 2009.
Much work still needs to be done to improve the school systems in the Gulf states. But Obama never promised he would completely fix all of the school woes in the region, only that he would "help" to make necessary infrastructure investments. And with hundreds of millions of dollars in the stimulus and the proposed $30 million in his current budget, plus the effort to pool the rebuilding money, he's done that. We rate this one Promise Kept.
"Promises, Promises: Obama wins praise for Katrina,"
by Ben Evans and Becky Bohrer, Aug. 27, 2009
Times-Picayine, "Southern University at New Orleans gets long-awaited rebuilding grant" by Bill Barrow, Aug. 17, 2009
Times-Picayune, "Red tape eased in rebuilding of N.O. schools," by Coleman Warner, May 16, 2009
White House, Fact Sheet: Background on Gulf Coast Recovery and Nationwide Disaster Preparedness and Response Efforts
Times-Picayune, "'New Orleans has a unique place in...American life, and that's why it's so important now.'' Analysis," by Jonathan Tilove and Bruce Alpert, Aug. 23, 2009
Interview with Allison Plyer, Deputy Director, Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, Aug. 28, 2009
Interview with Christina Stephens, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, Aug. 28, 2009