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Argument: Charter schools exploited aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans

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Daniel Pryzbyla. "Katrina exposed charter school carpetbaggers". EdNews.org. October 1, 2007 - "When Katrina hit New Orleans, I was two weeks into my senior year at Frederick Douglass Senior High School," said Maria Hernandez. "So far, I've had to start my senior year three times at three different schools in three different cities."

"All of these changes happened within a month's time," she continued, "From Douglass in New Orleans to Telequa High outside of Muscogee, Oklahoma and from Telequa to Union High in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now after everything is said and done, I miss the high school that was my alma mater. I'm afraid to get my class ring because we might just move again, and I'd be stuck."

Hernandez was one of thousands of people displaced after Hurricane Katrina's violence crushed the Gulf coast August 29, 2005. While at Douglass public high school, she was a member of Students at the Center (SAC). An independent program initiated by Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., it had been operating in two Orleans Parish public schools since 1996. Hernandez is one of five students and two New Orleans public school teachers whose essays are included in "Dismantling a Community," a short 40-page, excellent booklet published by the Center. In addition to the noteworthy African-American essays, it includes revealing time-lines focusing on the hurried dismantlement of the city's former public school system of 63,000 students (93% African American, 75% low-income) and 117 school buildings, half of them damaged beyond repair. "In the immediate chaos after the storm, many both in and outside New Orleans – people who were not searching for relatives, who had dry shoes and a place to lay their heads – seized on the disaster as an 'opportunity,'" the "Dismantling" booklet noted.

Although the No Child Left Behind education act (NCLB) has virtually expunged "history" via its high stakes testing in other subjects, Katrina's aftermath brought recent and past history onto center stage. Seizing on education "disasters" was one of them. A dictionary definition for "carpetbagger" is "U.S. history; a Northerner who went to the South after the Civil War and became active in Republican politics, esp., as to profiteer from the unsettled social and political conditions of the area during Reconstruction.(2) Any opportunistic or exploitive outsider (1865- 1870)." Welcome to new New Orleans.

A "Dismantling" side bar highlighted, "9 days after the storm… the Heritage Foundation outlines its recommendations for the rebuilding of New Orleans." It called for "tools such as tax credits and vouchers programs, which allow individuals and families to direct funds, should be utilized to encourage private sector innovation and sensitivity to individual needs and preferences." In addition, "Private vision, not bureaucracy, must be the engine to rebuild…The critical need now is to encourage investors and entrepreneurs to seek new opportunities within these cities. Bureaucrats cannot do that…"

Another side bar highlighted "12 days after the storm." It featured the Education Industry Association, representing corporate interests like textbook companies and corporate school contractors. It sent a letter to its members: "Defining moments in history are often recognized with aid of hindsight. Looking backward in time, events and opportunities always come into sharper focus. The challenge is to see these moments in real time and to act decisively. Katrina, and her swath of destruction, can be one of these defining moments in the history of the education industry. Our actions or inactions will leave an indelible mark in the minds of our customers, including students, families and schools: the media and elected officials…"

Quoting Paul T. Hill of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, he gloated, "In the case of post-hurricane New Orleans, American school planners will be as close as they have ever come to a 'green field' opportunity." For carpetbaggers, it was.


Nat LaCour, secretary-treasurer of American Federation of Teachers, said in regards to charter schools in New Orleans - "You had a natural disaster in New Orleans. Now what's happened in New Orleans is a man-made disaster."[1]

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