To mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush spoke today at the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Math and Science, “armed with facts and figures” to show how much he has done. This appearance marked the fourth time in a row that Bush has chosen a charter school as a backdrop for his Gulf Coast appearance.
Today, Bush proclaimed, “I come telling the folks in this part of the world we still understand the problems.” He bragged that the federal government has provided Louisiana with $700 million in emergency education funds to rebuild the school system. “I believe in freedom to manage and accountability to make sure everybody learns,” said Bush. “It’s what I call challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Watch it:
But a new report by the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation finds that the Bush administration has largely shortchanged the Gulf Coast’s schools. Some highlights:
— “The estimated cost of hurricane-related destruction in K-12 and higher education in Mississippi and Louisiana is $6.2 billion, but “the federal government has provided only $1.2 billion.”
— Just 2 percent of the federal government’s reconstruction funding went toward education recovery.
— Foreign governments contributed $131.5 million to recovery funding for Louisiana colleges, slightly more less than the $135 million contributed by the U.S. government.
Bush stated today that “education needs to be the number one priority” of the state of Louisiana. But it’s clear that it wasn’t nearly a top priority for his administration, which instead handed out billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to political allies.
When Hurricane Katrina broke through the levees, it broke a lot of hearts, it destroyed buildings, but it didn’t affect the spirit of a lot of citizens in this community.
This spirit can be best reflected when you think about a principal who refused to allow a school to be destroyed by the floor, and worked hard to not only rebuild the building but keep the spirit alive, or it can be reflected in the fact that teachers commute — we met a 7th grade teacher today who commutes 30 miles every day to be able to impart knowledge and to share wisdom with students who will be leading New Orleans in the future.
And so it’s a — my attitude is this: New Orleans, better days are ahead. It’s sometimes hard for people to see progress when you live in a community all the time.
Laura and I get to come — we don’t live here. We come on occasion. And it’s easy to think about what it was like when we first came here after the hurricane and what it’s like today. And this town’s coming back. This town is better today than it was yesterday. And it’s going to be better tomorrow than it was today.
And there’s no better place to find that out than in the school system. […]
And so I come telling the folks in this part of the world we still understand the problems. And we’re still engaged. And Don will continue to make sure that we listen and respond when possible.
But let me talk about the school system. There is nothing more hopeful than a good school system. And I firmly believe that excellence in education is going to be the leading edge of change for New Orleans.
Margaret Spellings, who’s the secretary of education, understands this concept. The government has provided Louisiana with more than $700 million in emergency education funds to help not only the public school system but also the parochial school system. And that’s money well spent.
It’s money spent on construction. It’s money spent on creating incentives for teachers to return. It’s money to make sure children who went to other school districts — those school districts got reimbursed.
It was good money spent. Because education needs to be the number one priority of the state, just like Kathleen Blanco has made that the priority.
New Orleans is about to open 80 schools, nearly 80 schools this fall. That’s a remarkable achievement. Nearly half of which happen to be charter schools.
I believe in freedom to manage and accountability to make sure everybody learns. And that’s the essence of the charter school movement — freedom to manage, but accountability to make sure no child gets left behind. And that’s the spirit of the superintendent — both superintendents here.
They believe in high expectations and measuring. It’s what I call challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you don’t believe that somebody can learn, you’ll set low expectations.