Governor Kathleen Blanco: Recovery School District Bill, Nov. 9, 2005

Date: Nov. 9, 2005
Issues: Education

Governor Kathleen Blanco: Recovery School District Bill, Nov. 9, 2005

October 25, 2005 Governor Blanco at Scotlandville Middle School

Chairman Crane, committee members, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you about an issue of vital importance to our state, our children and our families - that is the need for quality public education in the city of New Orleans.

Last week, I joined officials of the Louisiana Department of Education to announce the latest progress being made by the majority of Louisiana's schools. Those scores are good news for our state's schools, its students, teachers, principals and Superintendents.

It's encouraging to know that a majority of Louisiana's schools continue to improve. This proves that our accountability measures are working. They are paying off for our students, their families, for our communities and for our state.

However, I was equally saddened to see just how many of our failing schools are in New Orleans.

According to this year's School Accountability results, prior to the Hurricanes of 2005, 68 of the 170 schools identified as Academically Unacceptable in Louisiana were located in Orleans Parish. This is further proof of that even before the storms, New Orleans schools were not serving our children well.

It concerned me then, and it concerns me even more now.

I know it concerns each of you.

But I am also encouraged - encouraged that we have an historic opportunity to start anew, to create an environment for a new birth of excellence and opportunity for the children and families of New Orleans.

Students and their families have been relocated into schools across this country - quality schools.

These parents have new expectations for what schools should be and what they should provide. These families will only return home when we can meet these new - and higher - expectations.

It took the storm of a lifetime, to create the opportunity of a lifetime; an opportunity to start anew in a thoughtful, organized and measured way that serves every single child in New Orleans.

If we're going to bring back New Orleans, we must bring back our schools and we need to bring them back better than before.

I know you agree that we cannot afford to rebuild schools that keep failing. We cannot afford to rebuild schools that do not give students the quality education they need.

We cannot afford to squander the chance to make real and significant changes for the children of that city.

That's why I'm proposing that the state take control and re-create the schools in Orleans Parish and other districts in the future that are below the state average.

This is not a decision made lightly.

I came to this decision after repeated discussions with members of the Orleans delegation. They understand that a strong public school system is essential to a successful recovery effort.
I came to this decision only after careful consideration and after consultation with New Orleanians and education experts.

I've heard from parents and educators - evacuees from that great city - who yearn to return home.
One woman, a displaced teacher working here in Baton Rouge, dissolved into tears as she described how she wants to teach the children of New Orleans in New Orleans.

My goal, my vision, of this whole recovery is to bring our families home. Creating a new public school system is vital to bringing our teachers, our students and our families home to New Orleans.

Remaking the New Orleans public school system will be done in a thoughtful manner, taking into consideration the needs of the community.

This will be a collaborative effort that best meets the needs of children and their families.

Quality public education is the measure of strong and healthy communities. If we really expect a rebirth in the city of New Orleans, a quality public school system is absolutely essential.

Under this legislation, when a district like Orleans is identified as "academically in crisis," the state will take responsibility for every school in that district that is below the state average. Those schools will be placed in the Recovery School District.

Once there, the State Department of Education would run those schools or find a provider with a proven record of success to run them. Among the options available to us in New Orleans are Type 5 charter schools.

This is similar to what the Department of Education is doing with failing schools throughout the state, only on a much larger scale.

By infusing proven and innovative educational practices, federal charter school funding, and national foundation support, we will rebuild quality schools in New Orleans.

Let me be clear:

This bill does not abolish the Orleans Parish School Board.

It is not a bill about blame.

It is not designed to divide us and it is not about who is in control.

It is about seizing an opportunity for our children and our families who must have full access to quality public education.

This bill is an intervention for a school district in financial crisis, in academic crisis and now, in physical crisis due to the extensive damage inflicted on its school buildings by the storms.

We know that a school district facing this many challenges does not have the resources, nor the capacity to turn its schools around. The Orleans Parish School System needs our attention - our full attention, if it is to be rebuilt. That's why I'm proposing this Recovery School District legislation.

Giving these schools a fresh start is an important first step in turning around the Orleans Parish School System. Good schools will bring people back to the city they love.

It will also send a clear message across the country that Louisiana is prepared to take bold new steps in pursuit of educational excellence.

And in order for New Orleans to re-build and recover, we must create quality schools for our children. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We must not let it pass us by.

The children of New Orleans deserve it, their parents deserve it, the city deserves it and the state must demand it.

In recent years, we had grown proud of receiving positive national recognition for many elements of school reform efforts in teacher accountability and pushing student achievement. Orleans Parish has continued to present challenges that every one of us wants to overcome.

I think we all agree that now is the time to act, now is the time to think out of the box and NOW is the time to turn a failing system into a model for the nation.