Early Childhood

Katrina’s Impact on Pre-K Programs Lingers

By Linda Jacobson — September 06, 2006 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A year after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, many preschools, child-care centers, and other early-childhood programs in the region are still struggling to reopen.

In Louisiana, 52 of the 266 child-care centers that were operating in Orleans Parish before Katrina have reopened, according to a report released last month by Save the Children, an international relief organization. About half the ones that remain closed are not expected to reopen, according to the study, which was conducted by the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University.

“Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Child Care Assessment” and “After Katrina: Rebuilding Mississippi’s Early Childhood Infrastructure; The First Six Months” are available from the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University.

The study also showed that only about 10 of the 30 Head Start or Early Head Start programs in the New Orleans area are again serving children.

Programs “are coming back more slowly than we would have expected,” said Judy Watts, the president of the Louisiana Association for the Education of Young Children, based in Baton Rouge.

While some grants from the state and from private foundations are available for materials and equipment, she said, there isn’t enough money for every center. The lack of up-and-running preschools is affecting families who have returned to the area, Ms. Watts added.

“Housing is the biggest barrier for people who want to come back, but child care is right behind that,” she said.

In Mississippi, early-childhood-education centers have rebounded faster, largely because of a rebuilding initiative organized by the Early Childhood Institute at MSU.

Of the 291 licensed centers—including family child-care homes—that existed in the region hit by Katrina in late August of last year, 251 were back open just six months after the disaster.

Waiting for Contractors

In the New Orleans area, many private providers of early-childhood education and care say they want to reopen, but are unable to find contractors to repair their facilities.

Pearlie Harris, the director of Royal Castle Child Development Center in New Orleans, had hoped to have her center open at the beginning of August. But contractors haven’t finished painting and haven’t fixed the air conditioning in her facility.

“When you think they’re coming, they’re not coming, because everyone is tugging at them,” Ms. Harris said.

While she’s licensed for 100 children, she has registered only 20, because she hates to keep calling families to tell them she has to delay her opening date yet again.

Some preschool directors are also trying to restaff their facilities, but are struggling to find employees—much less those who already have training or experience in early-childhood education, Ms. Watts of the Louisiana Association for the Education of Young Children said.

“We could go in and train new staff, but we can’t find the people,” she said.

Ms. Harris said finding teachers and assistants hasn’t been a problem because her 10-year-old program has a good reputation in the community. But she still worries that since she can’t pay them yet, they might need to take positions elsewhere if her center doesn’t open soon.

School-based prekindergarten programs—such as Louisiana’s public pre-K program known as LA4—are somewhat better off because of the push to reopen schools for the new school year.

In New Orleans, of the 38 public elementary schools run by the state, the city school board, and authorized charter schools, 22 are offering prekindergarten during the 2006-07 school year, according to figures from the Louisiana Department of Education.

But schools won’t really know how many children to expect until they show up, said Cheryl Michelet, a spokeswoman for the department.

“It’s a guessing game,” she said.

While school-based programs have more resources available to them than community-based centers do, some are still affected by the rising costs of construction materials and labor.

In Louisiana’s 52,000-student Jefferson Parish school district, the opening of an early-childhood center at the Audubon Elementary School in Kenner has been delayed until the 2007-08 school year. Construction on the center had begun shortly before Hurricane Katrina hit, but the district postponed the project because of the escalating costs of building and the lack of available contractors.

Additional classroom space was available in the existing building, however, so pre-K students will still be served this fall.

Mississippi’s Good News

In Mississippi, early-childhood programs benefited from the Rebuilding After Katrina project, which conducted immediate assessments of the damage and provided a vehicle for donations from large contributors such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, of Battle Creek, Mich., and the Chevron Corp., the San Ramon, Calif., oil conglomerate, which has a refinery in Pascagoula, Miss.

“Chevron knew they had to get child-care centers open in order to have workers,” said Lynn Darling, the volunteer coordinator for Embrace Mississippi’s Children, a statewide project that focused on helping programs replenish their supplies of books and other learning materials.

“The [rebuilding] plan had one goal—to help child-care programs in the disaster area reopen as rapidly as was safe,” according to another report, released earlier this year by the Early Childhood Institute.

Licensed programs were given priority in the rebuilding effort, and donations were tied to participation in staff-development programs, as a way to encourage increases in quality over the long term, the report says.

In both New Orleans and in Mississippi, the institute has also recommended that assistance be targeted to programs that are already open or are close to reopening.

The New Orleans report also recommends that when planning for future disasters, officials should recognize “that child care is a critical service and its restoration should be included in national disaster plans.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 2006 edition of Education Week as Katrina’s Impact on Pre-K Programs Lingers


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood The State of Teaching Young Kids Are Struggling With Skills Like Listening, Sharing, and Using Scissors
Teachers say basic skills and tasks are more challenging for young students now than they were five years ago.
5 min read
Young girl using scissors in classroom.
E+ / Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Early Childhood Whitepaper
Context is Everything: Reimagining Edtech for Early Learners
This paper aims to discuss the balance between online and hands-on learning as it relates to our youngest learners.
Content provided by Seesaw
Early Childhood Without New Money, Biden Admin. Urges States to Use Existing Funds to Expand Preschool
There's no new infusion of federal funds for preschool, so the Biden administration is pointing out funding sources that are already there.
4 min read
Close cropped photo of a young child putting silver coins in a pink piggy bank.
Early Childhood Preschool Studies Show Lagging Results. Why?
Researchers try to figure out why modern preschool programs are less effective than the landmark projects in the 1960s and 70s.
7 min read
Black female teacher and group of kids coloring during art class at preschool.
iStock / Getty Images Plus