How Disaster Changed the N.O. Education Landscape - Part III

Little did the rest of Louisiana know (and some still don't get it) how the "turnaround" of the New Orleans Public School System was only a prelude to the corporate reform agenda that has now infiltrated local school districts statewide.  Why should we care what happens in the city that care (literally) forgot?  When local democratic control is effectively removed from your local district you may begin to understand.  Don't let this happen on your watch!

A Perfect Storm Part 1: 17 Days in November

A Perfect Storm: The Takeover of New Orleans Public Schools is the first in a series of short videos, that reveals the real story behind the creation of the nation’s first all charter school district. These videos are made possible with the support of  The Schott Foundation and The New Orleans Education Equity Roundtable. They are produced in partnership with Bayou and Me Productions.
For the past seven years, state education officials and corporate school reformers have touted the dramatic turnaround of New Orleans public schools. National media outlets have published numerous articles and TV news stories of the miracle in New Orleans citing unprecedented academic achievement where parents finally had School Choice.
This first Perfect Storm video focuses on the illegal takeover and the academic failure of the Recovery School District. The film features interviews with leaders in the New Orleans education community who were faced with the daunting task of reopening schools immediately following Hurricane Katrina.

The Perils of using Disaster as a Catalyst for Change in Louisiana - Part 1

Some very good editorials are being published as we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.  I am going to re-post several of those that particularly strike a nerve with me because they cut through the rhetoric and defy political correctness.  They also provide context to the rape of our public school system in Louisiana which began with the takeover of the New Orleans Public Schools.

 An Announcement from Lt. General Russel Honore'
(U.S. Army Retired)
NEW ORLEANS (July1, 2015) - My fellow citizens of Louisiana, I come to you today as a humble son of this great state and servant of this great nation. I was fortunate enough to spend 37 years in the United States military, retiring in 2008 from the U.S. Army after my life's work as a soldier. Today I come to you with a heavy heart and request your understanding At the urging of many of my fellow citizens, I've spent the last few months thinking about running for governor of the State of Louisiana. I've been humbled by the support of so many, and it has laid heavy on my mind after observing the 2015 Louisiana legislature, which made it abundantly clear that we desperately need better political leadership in Louisiana.

As we look at the state of our State and its current affairs, I recall the stories the old folks used to tell on the front porch of our farmhouse. My family were subsistence farmers and they would gather on rainy days, talking about the promises of President Roosevelt and Governor Huey Long. Times were hard and the crops were thin. That conversation should have changed a long time ago. It has not. Times are still hard and the challenges -- maybe you could say disasters -- we have in Louisiana today are very much like they were in my youth.

Do a gut check: are we happy with the government we have? With who represents us? Think: Who has a record of working for us, and who promised to but actually went to work for their biggest donors? We must reshape our politics and reorder our priorities. We must get comfortable with speaking about the unspeakable, about how is it that we can be the nation's third largest energy producer and second poorest state.

We must demand that our politicians put a priority on working for citizens, not their donors. Yes, I know, money has always influenced American politics - so much and for so long we're not even very angry about it anymore. But if someone robbed your house, you would be angry. I'm telling you, big donors are robbing your house. For instance, donors were behind a law that allows hundreds of manufacturing facilities to enjoy a 5-year tax exemption, and then apply for a 5-year renewal, courtesy of our Legislature. Because of these tax exemptions, local governments are denied the tax revenue they need to provide essential services, including schools, police and fire, parks, roads and libraries, thereby increasing the tax burden on our working families. If that sounds too crazy to be true, please see the GreenARMY scorecard to learn how your legislator voted on that are important to you and your family.. Most of our professional political class put industry profits and their own over the safety of our citizens. That's you and your family I'm talking about.

The tax code they've shaped has looted our state. That's your money and your home. Your politicians argue and sign petitions and accuse the federal government of overreaching for trying to protect our air from being poisoned by coal plants, yet Louisiana can provide all the cheap natural gas our state needs. While we are champions of fossil fuels, we must understand that there is an expiration date on the Louisiana fossil fuel supply. Still, the Legislature and the Public Service Commission have all but gutted the solar industry in Louisiana -- that means fewer new companies and fewer jobs -- and last year our Governor signed a retroactive law that prevents our citizens from holding companies accountable for the destruction of our wetlands. Look, we all need our oil industry to be successful, we all depend on the gasoline they produce -- I filled two cars up this week -- but that does not give them the right to pollute our state and destroy our coast. My parents taught me to fix what you break and clean up after yourself. Your parents taught you the same.

We should have the best schools, hospitals, and roads in America because we've got the money, muscle, and brains to build them. But our politicians take pledges that drag our state into near bankruptcy, and our natural resources get looted by out-of-state and foreign companies that continue to reap tax breaks and pollute our home. Candidates running for office have to make their donor list public, and if you look at it, you'll see the top contenders appear to have more donors from out-of-state industry than Louisiana donors. We must flip the script. Business-friendly doesn't mean handing out corporate welfare. Pay your way and clean up after yourself.

That's what those old farmers on the front porch used to say. When times were hard and getting worse, they still held themselves accountable. We should demand no less from those we elect. But those conversations people used to have on the front porch -- one thing they always included was hope. They had hope. And today so do I. We are on the eve of a great time to be a Louisianan but only if our leaders are on our side.

I moved back to Louisiana after 40 years because I love Louisiana. In my youth sometimes Louisiana didn't love me, but Louisiana gave me a great education at St Alma Elementary in Lakeland and Rosenwald High in New Roads. Louisiana gave me opportunities: I was able to put myself through Southern University because Mr. Grover Chustz, Mr. Raymond Honore, and Mr. Al "Carburetor" Davis gave me work. Every kid who grows up in Louisiana should have the opportunity to learn and work hard. Every school child from pre-K to twelfth grade should have an I-Pad and two teachers in an air conditioned classroom 10 months a year We need TOPS for all students in their junior and senior years of college, and if they stay here in Louisiana for five years after graduation, or teach in our schools for four years, they should have four years of TOPS. Kids who go to one of our great tech schools or community colleges should not pay tuition for their first two years of study. We need to recognize that our natural resources belong to us, not whoever donates the most to a candidate, and our resources include air and water that don't poison people. Our hospitality and agriculture workers, our teachers and First Responders need to make a living wage. Our air and water quality must be monitored with 21st century technology, not 1970's machines. Water management needs to move out of the Department of Natural Resources, because oil and water don't mix.

For those who have offered themselves as candidates for governor and the legislature, please keep in mind that public service means serving the public, honoring the public trust and putting the people before donors and special interests We need politicians who stand up and lead, not lay back and cash checks. We need to stop being stuck on stupid, stop believing that slash-and-burn business methods create jobs, stop believing that starvation wages are good for the people of Louisiana. We need to invest in ourselves, not out-of-state political donors. Louisiana belongs to Louisianans. We must take care of our own because it's our own who take care of Louisiana.

I want to continue to serve the people of Louisiana, as an advocate for the government we all deserve. . . but after nearly four decades as a loyal and proud soldier serving our country, after much thought and reflection over the past several weeks, I've concluded that I can best continue to serve the state I love by, not by becoming a politician and running for governor, but by working with the good people of Louisiana to reorder our political priorities and hold all of our elected officials accountable to the people they swear to serve. The coming elections represent a golden opportunity for all of us: an opportunity to hold our elected representatives accountable and demand that those seeking our votes propose real solutions to the big problems facing our state and its hard working families. And to hold them to their campaign promises.

I look forward to spending the coming weeks before our statewide elections encouraging our citizens to become actively engaged in examining the records and policy platforms of the candidates for governor and the legislature. Our future is at stake, and we need everyone who cares about Louisiana to do their part by becoming informed, actively involved and turning out to vote.

Finally, I want to most sincerely thank my fellow citizens for their encouragement and prayers, and for the opportunity to continue to serve my state as a private citizen and advocate for a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

Follow Gen. Honore' on Twitter @LtGRusselHonore


Disaster as a Catalyst for Change - Part Two

Dr. Beverly Wright produced this Letter to the Editor weighing in on the so-called Plan for the Future of New Orleans that was hatched by the powers that be, most certainly prior to the storm.  A Plan, like the plan to take over the New Orleans Public Schools, with the mark of Disaster Capitalism prominently displayed.

Much righteous indignation has been voiced over commentary after the storm that Katrina was a blessing in disguise, but where is overwhelming indignation that Katrina was a catalyst for some of the changes NOT welcomed by many of the City's disenfranchised?


Letter to the Editor

The Color Change:  White Washing a City
It Started with those Green Dots

Commentary by Dr. Beverly Wright, PhD
Dr. Beverly Wright
Dr. Beverly Wright
Let's just be "real" about how Black people feel their quality of life has, or is changing, ten years after Katrina. I can tell you this; Black folks know that things are changing, but at their core, they do not believe these changes will benefit them. They basically see a "New" New Orleans that is whiter and richer, and they see this happening at their expense. They can identify a number of actions taken by local and state government that have dramatically affected their lives. These include: (1) the Plan for the Future or the infamous "green dot map"; (2) the takeover of the New Orleans Public Schools by the state forming the Recovery School District; (3) the hostile takeover of public schools by charter networks; (4) the firing of all New Orleans public school teachers and personnel; (5) the suspension of the federal Davis-Bacon Act; and (6) the awarding of billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to a handful of politically connected nationally-based contractors. In this blog, I will speak to one of them, the Plan for the Future.

In order to understand the real implications and the devastating results of these actions, we have to begin at the beginning. And for most African American and Vietnamese New Orleanians, it starts with the "green dot map." I remember my phone ringing very early one morning and it continued to ring with calls from friends, most of whom lived in Eastern New Orleans before the storm, asking me if I had seen the front page of the Baton Rouge Advocate. I was living there at the time, having been wrenched from my home in "the East" by Katrina.

I recall running to the door to get the paper and immediately seeing why everyone was so frantic. There it was; a map of the city of New Orleans, with a large green dot sitting right on top of the area where our homes were located. As I looked at the legend that indicated these green dot areas were to be converted to parks and green space, I felt an incredible sense of disbelief that quickly morphed into anger. Even more incredulous was the additional twist that indicated these were also areas where a building moratorium would remain in effect until neighborhoods could prove viability. The city was going to turn our homes into green space and essentially prevent residents from rebuilding!

To top it off, there were other categories for rebuilding identified on the map which included; (1) areas where rebuilding was allowed (that's right, you guessed it; most of these areas were not even flooded); and (2) areas to be redeveloped, some with new housing for relocated homeowners, where "coincidentally," Southern University, the University of New Orleans and Dillard University were located. The city had invested so much in these institutions of higher learning that refusing to invest in the surrounding areas could not plausibly be defended even though these areas had been "drowned" by flood waters, just as much as some of those areas plastered with green dots. In this lies the fuel for the fire. 

Bluntly stated, most African Americans felt that this Plan for the Future "was an attempt to take their homes and not allow them to return to the city." The designation of the Uptown area - which most African American citizens know to be home to many affluent white families - as one in which rebuilding would be allowed; and conversely, New Orleans East and parts of Gentilly - well known to be predominantly African American and Vietnamese - as areas where neighborhoods must prove viability or simply be designated as suitable for green space, sealed the anguish, heightened the distrust of government, and bolstered the belief that Black people would not be treated fairly under this "Plan for the Future." 

While activism and community self determination beat back the "green dot plan," planners began to deny its authenticity by inferring that it was only a suggestion. Resettlement in these areas began despite the plan and to this day has been very successful through the shear will and energy of those residents who turned the onslaught against their communities into fuel for rebuilding.

But, I cannot say that this success extended to all aspects of recovery in these communities. What has failed is the ability of these communities, especially those in New Orleans East, to experience the enormous amount of economic development taking place in other parts of the city.

Residents have watched with dismay as "The East" has seen a proliferation of multi-family housing economically fueled by Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) coupled with an enormous shortage of affordable housing fueled by the destruction of public housing and astronomical increases in rents in areas that have traditionally been home to African American citizens. Gentrification in these areas is taking place at warp speed. 

As a resident of eastern New Orleans, I can tell you that the community feels betrayed by both local, state and federal government officials, whom they blame for the lack of amenities in their communities and an increase in disamenties, inclusive of crime, litter, and the proliferation of undesirable businesses such as pawn shops, liquor stores, halfway houses, and dollar stores on every corner. As one resident put it, "I should have known something was up when they began to build a dollar store at every I-10 exit in the East."

While the plan to stop rebuilding in the East by turning neighborhoods into green space failed; the plan seems to have another alternate phase, which I call "trash the neighborhoods, and they will leave." Most Black homeowners believe that they are being "run out of their neighborhoods." They see the new design for the city by these two telltale neon signs: (1) the reconstruction of "housing projects" through the use of former luxury apartment complexes, not designed for large families, nor having the amenities required for the safe and healthy upbringing of children); and (2) the "white washing" of traditionally African American neighborhoods, pushing poor people out to the suburbs (i.e. New Orleans East) where housing is more affordable- gentrification at the expense of the poor. 

The city of New Orelans' progress toward prosperity should have at its foundation, the inclusion of the well-being of African American communities. While my discussion here has focused only on the Plan for the Future, many actions listed in beginning of this blog, have stimulated change and movement towards the total transformation of the city. And I will say loudly and clearly, if city officials, federal and state government, urban planners, developers and realtors don't change the present trajectory of this transformation, New Orleans will become a city where Black folks used to live.

Dr. Beverly Wright is a sociologist and the Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Dr. Wright may be reached via email via