Education Federal File

The Big Easy Revisited

By Andrew Trotter — September 06, 2006 1 min read

In a wide-ranging national address last week in New Orleans, President Bush highlighted the promise of charter schools as a force against the city’s persistent poverty and an upgrade to a dysfunctional school system.

Speaking on the first anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the president said the conversion of most of New Orleans’ public schools into publicly funded charter schools was “a novel plan to address failure that had caused—in many cases, was a root cause of poverty.”

He appeared on Aug. 29 with first lady Laura Bush at Warren Easton Senior High, a 93-year-old facility that flooded after the storm. The oldest school in the city is now run by a private foundation under a charter granted by the Orleans Parish school board.

“A more hopeful New Orleans means replacing a school system that didn’t work with one that will,” Mr. Bush said.

His comments were a different angle on poverty from the one Mr. Bush expressed two weeks after the hurricane. In his Sept. 15, 2005, speech in the city’s Jackson Square, the president said the region’s “deep persistent poverty … has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cuts off generations from the opportunity of America.”

“We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action,” Mr. Bush said in 2005.

Last week, the president advocated government aid to religious schools, in the form of “opportunity scholarships for the poorest of our families so they have a choice as to whether they go to a religious school or a public school.”

Noting that the first school to reopen after the storm was a Roman Catholic one, the president said: “It’s good for New Orleans to have competing school systems. It’s good for our country to have a vibrant parochial school system.”

At the same event, Mrs. Bush announced grants by the Laura Bush Foundation to help 10 schools in Louisiana and Mississippi restock their flooded libraries.

She also underscored the importance of attracting people to serve in the local schools.

“We need more Americans, especially teachers, to move to the Gulf Coast and rebuild their lives here, to invest in [a] new community by building better schools, working for justice and equality, and sharing time, prayers, and love with neighborhoods who are still grieving,” Mrs. Bush said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 2006 edition of Education Week