Things Louisiana People Will Tell You About Katrina, Part Two | The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Things Louisiana People Will Tell You About Katrina, Part Two
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Earlier this week, the first installment of our 10-year Hurricane Katrina retrospective focused on the fact that Louisianans weren’t quite so much enamored of the “Bush’s fault” narrative the national media established to describe the poor response to the devastating storm and held the responsibility a bit closer to home.

But there is a good deal more to what you might have heard about Katrina that the people who lived through it and have spent the past 10 years trying to get beyond its effects simply don’t agree with.

First, as we discussed in the first installment, George W. Bush is not seen by the majority of Louisianans as the villain of the storm. That is not meant to say that the federal government is highly regarded for its performance where New Orleans is concerned.

For example, remember the meme about how global warming caused Katrina? That one doesn’t impress too many people in Louisiana.

For one thing, while the state did have Hurricanes Gustav and Ike coming through and causing some inconvenience in the years after Katrina, it’s been some time since there was much of a threat from big storms in the Gulf to Louisiana. The global warming crowd assured us of the inevitable barrage of storms coming through, and thankfully they’ve not delivered.

And it isn’t the rising sea levels putting New Orleans more and more at risk. The Big Easy is closer and closer to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s true, but the problem is a bit simpler than the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

It’s very simple — the federal government screwed the whole thing up.

How? Because the Army Corps of Engineers decided to place levees along the Mississippi all the way to the river’s mouth. That might be a good idea for navigation, and it might be of benefit to some of the folks living along the river — though south of New Orleans that’s not a lot of people — but what it’s definitely not good for is the marshes in the lower part of the river’s delta that desperately need the silt the river would naturally deposit with the spring floods each year.

No silt alters the natural balance between the Gulf’s erosion and the river’s replenishment. Louisiana is losing an astonishing amount of land each year as a result, and the Mississippi’s delta is the primary place it’s disappearing. To the west, the Atchafalaya delta is actually growing — because that river isn’t leveed to its mouth.

This matters, because the Corps of Engineers is the party responsible for other levees — specifically the ones in New Orleans that failed during Katrina. It wasn’t the actual hurricane that destroyed the city, something most people don’t know. It was the failure of the levees after the storm had passed that caused the massive flooding and the scores of billions of dollars of damage. In fact, the sun was out when the levees broke — one reason why the idiotic rumor got started that the federal government blew the levees to destroy the city and get rid of the black people who live in it. Louisiana folks get a kick out of that one.

Which brings us to a rather amusing story about the federal government’s role in managing the amount of surface water in New Orleans. In the middle of the city sits the venerable City Park, in which there used to be a relatively popular public golf course. As City Park sits at an elevation lower than most of the city, the golf course became more or less a giant water hazard when the levees broke.

And as the city has attempted to rebuild the course, it ran into trouble with none other than the Army Corps of Engineers, who last month threw penalty flags because in constructing the course the city destroyed an acre of wetlands.

As if the Corps of Engineers has room to talk.

But on the positive side, Katrina destroyed the New Orleans public school system.

Seriously. That was a good thing. New Orleans had the worst public school system in America when that hurricane hit. Things were so bad that a New Orleans Times-Picayune article shortly before the storm about the experience of the forensic accounting firm hired to attempt a cleanup of its dysfunctional finances contained an estimate by the firm’s project leader that there was some 20 percent fraud and waste in the system’s payroll. Institution of proper accounting practices could cut the abuse in half, he said, but the record-keeping they inherited was so deficient the only way it could be completely eliminated was to stop sending out checks and force the employees to actually show up at the schools on payday to pick them up so they could be asked exactly what their jobs were.

Shortly thereafter, this was no longer a problem. There was no system, and it was replaced by a hodgepodge of competing charter schools, private schools operating with vouchers, and traditional public schools that perform at a level much higher than was the case pre-Katrina. And the results paint New Orleans as a test case for not requiring a hurricane to blow up a failing public education system; as Brigitte Nieland of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry noted earlier this week, among the successes of the marketplace in New Orleans…

  • The number of failing schools decreased from 117 in 2004 to eight in 2014. The percentage of students enrolled in failing schools decreased by 66 percent and the percent of students enrolled in “A” or “B” rated schools increased from 13 percent to 37 percent.
  • The percentage of students scoring at “Basic” or above on state tests rose from 37 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014.
  • The high school graduation rate improved from 58 percent in 2008 to 72.7 percent in 2014. (The graduation rate for black students exceeds the national average.) This cannot be attributed to counseling at-risk students to leave school, as expulsion and suspension rates have plummeted (expulsions from the 2013-14 to 2014-15 school years alone decreased by 14 percent).
  • Elementary and middle school student scores increased by 8 percent to 15 percent. Even with a high child poverty rate, the percentage of students who are deemed to be “Proficient” on state tests increased from 25 percent to 56 percent, over three times the state average for improvement on this indicator. Additionally, the percentage of black students’ proficiency increased from 21 percent to 59 percent, five percentage points higher than the state overall.
  • ACT scores have increased from 17 to 18.8 (the state average is 19.4). Results for black test-takers are higher than the national average for black students. Since 2013, Louisiana has required all students to take the ACT. Before then, only students who planned to attend college took the college readiness exam.
  • Every New Orleans school is now a charter school with a local governance board, allowing for maximum citizen/parent input.
  • The percentage of students enrolling in college doubled and the percentage of students earning TOPS awards increased by almost five times. (TOPS is Louisiana’s merit-based, state-funded college scholarship program.)
  • Differentiated funding for students with special needs that addresses the real costs of providing services per special education exceptionality was implemented. Before Hurricane Katrina, 11 percent of students with disabilities performed at the “Basic” level on state tests. In 2014, that number had increased to 39 percent, and high school graduation rates for students with disabilities exceed the state average by 17 percentage points.
  • A career education focus has been introduced, with at least 25 percent of high school juniors enrolled in Jump Start coursework for the 2016-17 school year. (Jump Start is a new state program that offers technical coursework and training to high school students, allowing them to earn national certifications and to be career ready upon their high school graduation.)
  • Attendance zones were eliminated, allowing students to travel across the district to attend the school of his or her choice.

The fact is that the people of New Orleans chafe quite a bit over the Katrina revisitation. It’s not a particularly high-demand conversation, for a number of reasons — the most prominent of which being that the people for whom it was a mere inconvenience rebuilt and have moved on, and are tired of hearing about it, and for the people whose losses were more than just property the hurricane is a traumatic experience the reliving of which brings more pain than anything else.

But for a goodly number of the affected, the Katrina revisitation is also a source of irritation because Katrina is in such large measure a device for the promotion of agendas. As an example, Barack Obama came to New Orleans yesterday to mark the anniversary, and to praise the federal effort in a city he’s offered virtually nothing to in eight years. And of course the National Urban League, headed by former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, is spending the week in the Big Easy for its national convention; a gripe-fest at which every failed socialist program will be touted as the panacea for what still ails the city (all of which has already been tried in New Orleans, with dismal results). And the Times-Picayune, now owned and managed by Newhouse Publishing out of New Jersey, has spent the entire summer running stories touting the Katrina anniversary to the annoyance of commenters on its website.

There are those who never got past Katrina. But most of the people in southeast Louisiana have a message for the perpetual gawkers and sympathizers, and it’s a simple one:

Enough already.

Scott McKay
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Scott McKay is publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics. He’s also a writer of fiction — check out his three Tales of Ardenia novels Animus, Perdition and Retribution at Amazon. Scott's other project is The Speakeasy, a free-speech social and news app with benefits - check it out here.
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