New Orleans

Did Obama come through for New Orleans schools after Katrina?

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, PolitiFact partnered with The Lens to report on President Barack Obama’s campaign promises about the storm’s impact on New Orleans. The Hechinger Report details their findings on education.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan infamously called Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”

The storm destroyed or damaged most of the city’s 120-something schools, displacing m of students and sending an already broken system into further disarray.

Visiting New Orleans, during his 2008 presidential bid, Obama promised aid for the city including a pledge to help rebuild schools.

Ten years after Katrina, the city’s educational changes have attracted the attention of policymakers nationwide. But has the president made good on his promise to schools?

Related: The graduation rates for every school district in one map

Obama delivers the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., but has he delivered on his promise to help rebuild New Orleans’ schools? (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Obama delivers the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., but has he delivered on his promise to help rebuild New Orleans’ schools?

In 2009, the Obama-backed 2009 stimulus package allocated $1.4 billion in education funds for Louisiana and $1.1 billion for Mississippi.

Since the storms hit in 2005, the two states have respectively received $3.37 billion and $334 million for education from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

New Orleans specifically was awarded a bulk $1.8 billion FEMA grant in 2010 to rebuild and repair about 80 schools. As of May 2015, 28 projects have wrapped up and 52 are underway, while eight have yet to begin.

Related: Mississippi has a school funding fight on its hands: Will kids be the winner?

The school district overseeing the recovery, however, emphasized in 2011 that FEMA dollars alone “will not fund renovation costs for the most stable buildings in the city right now.”

That’s not the feds’ fault, since the construction costs were 20 percent higher than estimated, according to a 2015 report by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives.

Report co-author Vincent Rossmeier said he could not comment on whether the FEMA grant was sufficient, but added that “the facilities were already in terrible shape prior to the storm and that the settlement was agreed upon by all parties.”

Related: What we can learn from Katrina children who thrived after disaster

Before Katrina, Louisiana’s education system ranked among the worst in the nation, and most of New Orleans schools were crumbling, underperforming, or both.

Currently, enrollment has returned to 67 percent of pre-Katrina levels, with the vast majority of the students attending charter schools.

The transformation into a nearly all-charter system has sparked intense debate — critics point to, for example, the performance divide between predominantly white and majority black schools.

Related: Forget shop class, New Orleans is trying to train black youth for a constantly shifting job market

Overall, though, test scores, per pupil spending, and state rankings have all surpassed pre-Katrina levels.

The Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in federal funding to rebuild and repair Gulf coast schools.

While that’s not enough to sustain the continuing recovery efforts, he only promised to “help” rebuild schools, not solve all of the problems.

We rate Obama’s efforts in education as a Promise Kept.

This story was produced in partnership with the The Lens, an investigative online newsroom covering New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking journalism website aimed at bringing readers the truth in politics.

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