The devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed most of the infrastructure of New Orleans’ public schools. The storm also largely destroyed the state and local tax bases from which the school district drew its revenues.
Hurricane Katrina displaced 64,000 students and caused $800 million in damage to public school buildings in New Orleans. With state policy opening doors to charters two years earlier, charter schools in New Orleans swept in seizing the moment and filling the spaces left in the wake of Katrina. Though a small but strong group of charter school supporters existed previous to Katrina’s arrival, the mass devastation and disruption caused by this natural disaster created an educational vacuum. The charter movement quickly expanded its footprint across the city’s parishes.
In September 2017 Hurricane Maria caused over $30 billion in damage to Puerto Rico- leaving most people without homes and drinking water, and everyone without power for a period of time. After the storm, every one of the 1,113 schools across the island was closed. As recently as early November, 598 or almost half of the schools are still closed.
More than 140,000 families have left the island since the storm hit September 20, and some experts estimate more than 300,000 more could leave in the coming two years. Schools in the US are dealing with an influx of Puerto Rican students; by some estimates up to 14,000 new students. Many families have gone to Florida, followed by Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and New Jersey (ABC News). This from Orange County (Orlando) Superintendent Jesus Jara:
“Our No. 1 priority from Day 1 was to welcome our fellow American citizens into our community and into our schools, to bring normalcy back into their life,”
Teachers have also fled, many to Florida and Texas, though they have until January 8, 2018 to return and reclaim their jobs (Suarez, 2017).
By the numbers:
School administrators are considering using the storm, similar to New Orleans, as an opportunity to privatize the public schools. Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary Julia Keleher has already called New Orleans’s school reform efforts a “point of reference” — tweeting last week that Puerto Ricans “should not underestimate the damage or the opportunity to create new, better schools” (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).
In the midst of a $73 billion debt crisis that pushed the island into a form of bankruptcy and forced hundreds of school closures, Keleher — a former U.S. Department of Education official who has worked since 2007 to transform Puerto Rico’s schools — announced a plan to decentralize the island’s unitary education system (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).
Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center For Education Reform, said reformers “should be thinking about how to recreate the public education system in Puerto Rico.” Allen, who was involved in the New Orleans school reform efforts, says charter operators should be thinking about how they can get involved in Puerto Rico’s post-Maria landscape (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).
You know Einstein said about insanity…
“Puerto Rico has been in an economic depression for over a decade and its schools were struggling before Hurricane Maria. Between 2006 and 2016, 700,000 students left the island. Earlier this year, Puerto Rico closed 200 schools as part of its austerity effort.
“Further, 90 percent of the island’s public-school students were low income before the hurricane. Last year, fewer than half of the island’s students scored proficient in Spanish, math, English, or science. The graduation rate is at 75 percent” (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).