GulfGov Reports Education Research Tracks School Recovery
Posted: 04/11/2007

GulfGov Reports: Education

An Examination of the Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

on the Public School Districts in 15 Communities

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government today announce the release of a special GulfGov Report that examines the public school districts in several communities across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and the effect of the storms on those districts.

Specifically, the study looks at school districts in Cameron, Calcasieu, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, East Baton Rouge, and St. Tammany parishes in Louisiana; Jackson, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Bay St. Louis/Waveland, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Pascagoula in Mississippi; and Mobile County in Alabama.

The study finds that enrollment has not yet recovered to pre-Katrina levels in most of the districts. St. Bernard Parish is suffering the most, with a decline of 57.4 percent in student enrollment; followed by Orleans Parish, down 54.3 percent; Bay St. Louis/Waveland, down 31.9 percent; Biloxi, down 25.3 percent; and Jefferson Parish, down 21.3 percent.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, enrollment has increased 8.3 percent in the East Baton Rouge Parish school districts, leading to schools that are filled to capacity and exacerbating pre-existing shortages in teachers, substitute teachers, and school bus drivers.

Officials across the 15 districts also face some other challenges in their recovery efforts, including the time lag for FEMA reimbursements and insurance payments, the rising cost of construction, the difficulty in replacing large numbers of books, desks, and other school supplies at the same time, and the constantly changing number of students.

“One of the most visible signs of an area’s recovery after a catastrophic event is the state of its public school system,” said Jim Brandt, president of PAR and co-principal investigator for the project. “When the school system is functioning, it gives both children and parents a sense of normalcy in at least one aspect of their lives. When it is not, the struggle to recover becomes that much more difficult. With this study we can see clearly how the condition of the school districts in the affected areas mirrors the state of the recovery in their communities.”

The study also reveals that in those districts where recovery has been relatively swift, officials had a few built-in advantages. Among them:

  • Pre-positioned contracts in place to help with clean-up and repair
  • Adequate insurance coverage for district facilities
  • A healthy cash reserve fund

Obviously, no one person or entity can anticipate everything that will be needed in a disaster the magnitude of Katrina and Rita, but there are things that can be done in advance that will help mitigate the impact, and this study makes a convincing case for that preparation.

The GulfGov Reports: Education study is the first of three reports that PAR and the Rockefeller Institute will release in the coming weeks. Next week, an 18-month update report, and that will be followed a few weeks later by a study of federal aid in the affected states. All of the reports will be available on the Web athttp://www.rockinst.org/gulfgov/ or at http://www.la-par.org.

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