Report: Federal Aid to Schools Devastated By Hurricane Katrina Woefully Inadequate

WASHINGTON

Gulf Coast schools decimated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita two years ago are still waiting for promised federal help, a new report finds. The study, released Wednesday by the Southern Education Foundation, reveals that a lack of government intervention has caused as many as 15,000 K-12 public school students and 35,000 college students to stay out of school.

The report also finds a clear disparity in how Black students in Louisiana fared in the wake of the storms. The number of high school students who took the ACT college entrance exam dropped by one-sixth in 2006, and Black students accounted for almost 60 percent of this drop. Also, one in five Black public college students dropped out.

“This report tells the story of a massive failure of ‘we the people’ through our national government to respond adequately” in the wake of the storms’ devastation, says Lynn Huntley, SEF president. “We do not apportion blame, although there is plenty of blame to apportion. Instead, we challenge Americans and their government to provide adequate educational assistance and leadership,” she adds.

Report author and SEF program coordinator Steve Suitts says his research found that of the $115 billion spent on hurricane recovery by the federal government, only 2 percent “has gone to recovery of education and helping students. In essence, this means that since 2005, the federal government has committed one dollar for every $2.5 billion spent. That is the priority the government shows for recovering education.”

Suitts also revealed shocking statistics comparing the federal government’s recovery aid for higher education in Louisiana with aid given by other nations. The report reveals other nations have contributed almost as much — $131.5 million — to higher education recovery as the U.S. government’s $135 million. 

“Other nations have felt and exercised as much obligation to restore education in one of the 50 states in America as has the American government itself. While I think no one in Louisiana higher education has done anything but welcome the support of foreign governments, the fact is it also points out how small, how insufficient the support of the federal government has been,” Suitts says.

Other findings of the study indicate that in the second year after the hurricanes, college attendance in Louisiana continued to drop as more than 26,000 students were still out of school. Forty-three percent of these students were Black, despite the fact that only 28 percent of Louisiana college students are Black.

The report also reveals that among all Gulf-area colleges, historically Black colleges and universities such as Xavier and Dillard, had the steepest enrollment declines, and no Gulf-area college has been able to reach 90 percent of pre-hurricane enrollment levels.

“Education Secretary Margaret Spellings issued a report recently documenting the need to enhance access and resources for higher education so vital to national economic competitiveness, security and innovation,” Huntley says. “What will that report mean if great institutions of higher education are decimated because of lack of resources?”

“Will the federal government recognize that blood can’t be got from a turnip to help Gulf Coast students and schools?” she adds, calling on President Bush and/or Congress to appoint an independent commission to review education needs and direct resources where needed.

Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation is the oldest education philanthropy in the United States. For more information and access to the complete report, titled “Education after Katrina: Time for a New Federal Response,” visit SEF on the Web at www.southerneducation.org.

–Associated Press

 

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