New Orleans' schools were also caught up in a flood of racism, poverty, and neglect long before Katrina arrived. There are 60,000 children in New Orleans public schools, and 96 percent of them are African American. Last year, about 10,000 of those children were suspended at one point or another, and almost 1,000 of them were expelled. Half of the high school students in New Orleans don't graduate.
The district had to borrow money last year to pay the salaries of its teachers. Today, New Orleans' schools are closed indefinitely and, according to Reuters, 7,000 city teachers and other staff "will not get paid for periods after Hurricane Katrina because there is almost no money left in the city's strapped school system."
Hyper-segregation, such as that found in New Orleans, means poor children of color receive unequal and inadequate educations. In his new book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America [See excerpt], Jonathan Kozol reminds us that our schools are still rife with extreme racial segregation. Children in highly segregated urban schools have worse facilities, lower paid and less-trained teachers and staff, access to fewer classroom and school resources, and are regularly subjected to scripted, dumbed-down curricula. New Orleans is no exception.
Now, according to current estimates, nearly 400,000 students who have been displaced from schools in Louisiana and Mississippi are expected to enroll in schools around the country. According to the Department of Education, at least 28 states and Washington, D.C., are receiving Katrina's victims. This massive influx of new students into schools, many of which are already struggling under No Child Left Behind mandates, further stretches the meager resources for public education. And at least two of these states, Texas and Utah, propose teaching some of the displaced Gulf Coast school children in shelters rather than in their own public schools.
Consistent with the continual budget cuts, privatization, and overall shrinking of public services, Bush recently announced the allocation of $488 million to help families displaced by Katrina place their children in private schools-specifically those families whose children were already in private schools before Katrina hit. This smells like a back-door approach to get public funding for private schools and would essentially create the first national school voucher plan.