10 years after Katrina: Louisiana’s landscape of school choice

By Paul Dauphin

As we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we are all evaluating the changes that have occurred in the decade since. Has the region recovered? What is the quality of life? Did New Orleans and Louisiana change for the better?

More than 1,000 Louisianans lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina. Following this tragedy, the state embarked on a bold path of education reforms, which started just prior to Hurricane Katrina.

“Out of that destruction the people of New Orleans chose to build something completely different,” said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. “So today you now have a school system dominated by choice.”

Today more than 96,000 students are enrolled in Louisiana school choice programs. The state has 134 charter schools educating more than 70,000 students. The 131 schools in the Louisiana Scholarship Program enable more than 7,600 low-income students to attend a private school of their choice. Louisiana’s Course Choice program, which allows students to select from hundreds of online and face-to-face courses not offered by traditional schools, serves more than 19,000 students.

Orleans Parish, the state’s only 100 percent district of choice and containing the nation’s only 100 percent all-charter school district, has made significant academic gains as a result of the post-Katrina restructuring of the education system and wholesale introduction of choice.

A recent report by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives found that New Orleans’ schools improved remarkably over the past 10 years. In 2005, based on academic performance, only one other parish was worse than Orleans Parish. It is now outperforming 25 parishes.

“We’ve all been given better options. You now have an option of a better school,” said Tikisha Kelly, a parent whose child received a voucher to attend St. Benedict the Moor School in New Orleans.

“Parents are now empowered to select the school that meets the educational, emotional, and social needs of their children,” said Ann Duplessis, president of the Louisiana Federation for Children.