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Louisiana School Reformer to Join New Orleans Mayoral Race

The New Orleans mayoral race could get more interesting today--especially for those who care about public schooling--with the entry of Leslie Jacobs, a former member of Louisiana's state board of education and the city school board, into the contest.

Jacobs, an insurance executive in New Orleans, is reportedly going to announce her candidacy today. She's already got a Web site in place to enlist supporters.

It's safe to say that Jacobs is responsible for much of what public education in New Orleans looks like now, four years after Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters devastated the city. She was one of the main architects of the Recovery School District, the state-run entity that had already taken over five failing schools, and subsequently took over the rest of the city's low performers after the storm. Jacobs, who stepped down from the state board last year after serving 12 years, has been one of the loudest champions of charter schools, which are now the dominant form of public schooling in New Orleans. She was also behind the creation of Louisiana's accountability system, including its high-stakes state exams.

What would it mean for schooling in New Orleans if Jacobs were to become mayor? Given that the mayor of the still-recovering city has a panoply of issues to attend to, like health care and housing, it may not be possible to put schools front and center. That's especially true since the state of Louisiana, in the form of schools chief Paul Pastorek, and Paul Vallas, the superintendent of the RSD, have such a heavy hand in operating and governing New Orleans' public schools.

But education is certainly where Jacobs has made her mark and it will surely have to make up an important part of her message to voters. I think it's probably safe to assume that she'd take a much keener interest in the city's public schools than Mayor Ray Nagin, who has largely stayed out of the education arena.

I also can't help but wonder whether Jacobs is interested at all in the idea of mayoral control for New Orleans' schools. After all, the state RSD authority for New Orleans expires soon, and it's still very unclear what form of governance will take its place.

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