Colorado schools are serving more than 250 displaced Gulf Coast students in grades pre-k through high school. Schools around the country have taken in some 372,000 displaced students. Hats off to the teachers, principals, and fellow students for their commitment to educating and caring for the young victims of Hurricane Katrina. A few days ago, President George W. Bush committed to reimburse public school districts for the costs associated with educating these kids. To be fair to families who choose private schools, such parents would be eligible for compensation under the President’s plan . Equitable compensation is especially important given the comparatively high private school enrollment in New Orleans. Not surprisingly Senator Kennedy’s plan discriminates against families who use private schools by leaving them out of the relief effort.
The President also proposed designating the affected Gulf Coast Region as an Opportunity Zone. Opportunity Zone communities would receive tax and regulatory relief and other resources during the recovery period. Proposal specifics are still needed.
Heritage Foundation Analyst Dan Lips has a few in mind:
Congress should respond … by providing Education Smart Cards—$5,000 scholarship grants to pay for enrollment costs at public, private, or charter schools for all affected students.
Congress also should enact …incentives for quality education service providers to help rebuild schools in affected areas. As a part of the Opportunity Zone initiative, Congress should use existing federal charter school funding to encourage the development of charter schools in Gulf Coast states. In addition, Congress should direct Opportunity Zone oversight personnel to work with state leaders to expand the role of charter schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Charter schools independently operated public schools. Of the states effected, Alabama does not allow charter schools and Louisiana and Mississippi weak laws that impede the creation of a robust public charter school sector. Incentives would provide students with new options.
Louisiana reformers have tried for several years and even come close to enacting vouchers for New Orleans school children. If there ever was a time to provide fresh opportunities for students and incentives for the creation and expansion of private schools, now is the time. The Gulf Coast has a chance to remake itself and it can choose a future that is freer, fairer, and more promising for its children.
For a peek into the lives of displaced students check out these two human interest stories from the Rocky Mountain News at
Also, the Colorado Department of Education has provided information about educational resources for displaced students at www.cde.state.co.us/cdeprevention/hkatrina_resources.htm