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Former Sen. Mary Landrieu: Charters Increased Equity In New Orleans Schools

Ahead of the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is out with a commentary in Education Week that praises the charter school sector for helping right what was once a flailing education system in New Orleans.

Landrieu argues that while the academic renaissance of New Orleans schools has garnered significant attention for increasing choice and improving test scores, the real story is actually the enhanced equity in the city's education system.

Here's a snippet from her op-ed:

A significant portion of education revenues are based on local property taxes, so that schools in neighborhoods with higher home values and more-affluent families tend to receive a greater investment than schools in poorer areas.

This reality perpetuates and deepens racial inequity as African-American and Hispanic students tend to be clustered in low-income areas and attend poorly funded schools. In addition, studies show that black students are disproportionately likely to be suspended and expelled. And students with disabilities and special education needs typically face an uphill battle in gaining access to adequate resources, especially in poorer districts.

The New Orleans public charter school experience is turning this reality upside down.

The city has done that, Landrieu writes, by focusing on four main things:

  • Adopting a citywide school choice and a unified enrollment system that provides equal access to schools across the city;
  • Ensuring that discipline is handed out fairly by creating a centralized expulsion-hearing office, as well as a unified code for expulsions;
  • Overhauling the school funding formula to give schools significantly more money to serve students with special needs;
  • Setting high standards across the board and ensuring that schools are closed when they consistently fail to meet those standards.

You can read the entire op-ed here.

For the record: Landrieu is a board member of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a Washington-based organization that advocates for charters, as well as the sister of New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu.

But as the Bayou State's senior senator (she was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and served until this past January after she lost her seat to a GOP contender ), she played a significant role in helping steer federal resources to the city. Indeed, as the former chairwoman of Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, which oversees funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she was able to direct millions of dollars to the Gulf Coast.

There's much to learn from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and my colleagues here at Education Week are out with an important package looking at the city's education system.

The package is the most thorough and in-depth reporting you'll find anywhere about how the hurricane impacted the school system and where it stands today. You should read it all (with a box of tissues).

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