Planning for Disaster: Education Policy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
Winters, Clyde, Multicultural Education
Natural disasters and economic crises can have a negative effect on schooling. In late August 2005 the American Gulf Coast was struck by Hurricane Katrina. Due to the disaster, many school districts lacked the facilities to execute their education mission. This lack of facilities has caused the migration of tens of thousands of New Orleans students to cities throughout the United States. In addition, places along the Gulf Coast have lost schools that can not be rebuilt immediately. This makes it clear that we need an education policy that can prepare school districts, the states, and nation to help localities rebuild their school systems and teach children until the new schools are built.
In Mississippi 36,000 students were without schools. As a result of flooding in the New Orleans area, some 135,000 plus students have been sent to 15 different states to continue their education in primary and secondary schools and Universities throughout the nation. Many of the Gulf Coast school districts are experiencing problems financing their public schools, and lack classroom space, textbooks, transportation, and teachers. Now they are sending their students to struggling school districts outside their own state. For example, 300 school districts in Texas sued the state alleging a lack of school funding.
The effects of a natural disaster on human capital such as schooling vary (Skoufias, 2003). Research indicates that economic crises and disasters can affect school attendance (Jacoby & Skoufias, 1997); school attainment (Duryea, 1998; Skoufias & Parker, 2002); completion of secondary school (Flug, Spilimbergo, & Wa-chtenheim, 1998); ability of parents to pay for their child's education (Skoufias, 2003); and loss of income can encourage parents to pull children out of schooling and direct them to work (Skoufias, 2003). This research makes it clear that a municipality's capacity for public schooling is correlated with its ability to cope with a natural catastrophe or economic crisis. It also appears that the effects of economic crises and disasters on a child's schooling vary from country to country and can depend on the individual country's financial and economic development (Skoufias, 2003).
Most of the studies on the coping strategies school districts use to recover from a natural disaster relate to third world countries (Skoufias, 2003). McBrien (2005) has made it clear that education for refugee children should be "an essential element of humanitarian response to crisis" (p. 338). The research indicates that children also need their psychological and social needs met if they are to experience successful adjustment in a new environment after the trauma and stress of a natural disaster (McBrien, 2005; Sinclair, 2001). This results from the fact that children who live through a natural disaster often suffer from both cultural and personal bereavement due to being forced to move away from their home.
We have no studies on the coping strategies industrialized countries like the United States can use to cope with loss of education capacity by large municipalities as a result of natural disaster or a terrorist attack. The absence of knowledge of stateof the-art coping strategies in the case of natural disasters adversely affects schooling in the United States, and makes it clear we need more knowledge about this area.
We need to investigate these issues in relation to the state and national response to Hurricane Katrina. This project will study the community level shock, after a major natural disaster that directly affected education by straining the capacity of school districts to operate schools that may have been damaged beyond repair or destroyed, and whose student population may have to be evacuated to different municipalities or states due to the severity of the natural disaster. This examination of the response to Hurricane Katrina will provide us with insight into the municipal, state and federal roles in educational recovery, and building schooling capacity after a natural disaster destroys the public and private school infrastructure of a large urban center.
Understanding how to effectively cope with educational capacity after a natural disaster demands that we answer a number of questions resulting from the interplay between ex-ante (mitigating) and ex-post (coping) strategies of educational institutions impacted by natural disasters and economic crises that destroy schools or made them unusable for instruction. Some of these questions are as follows:
* What is the impact of the natural disaster on student health?
* How can school facilities be made safe for instruction?
* How do educational personnel decide what facilities are available in the community that can be used in the short-term for instructional purposes?
* What will be the cost of transporting students to available instructional facilities?
* What is the projected cost of repairing school infrastructure?
* Will students have to be sent to schools outside the district; to schools outside the state?
* Are there enough teachers available to teach in the safe schools or "temporary" facilities that can be used for instructional purposes?
As a result of Hurricane Katrina 200,000 evacuee elementary, high school and college students were sent to 23 different states. The effects of this involuntary migration of thousands of students to new school districts demand that we create a national policy to ensure learning continues for students forced to seek education elsewhere due to a natural disaster.
Much human and social capital is affected by a natural disaster. This includes the people who are forced to abandon their homes and community culture and schools as they move to new locations safe for habitation. This involuntary migration of school children demands that receiving schools develop new strategies to alleviate some of the financial burden, logistical problems and mental health needs of the evacuee students.
There are a number of problems associated with a natural disaster in relation to human capital. These problems include school attendance, school achievement, secondary school completion, the inability of parents to pay for their child's education, and mental problems.
A major problem for some evacuee students is mental problems. These mental problems will include posttraumatic stress syndrome, acute stress disorders, and distress symptoms.
Research indicates that a major mental health problem for displaced children is their feeling of being lost (McBrien, 2005). This feeling can adversely affect evacuee children because it can prevent them from developing a sense of security-due to fear that another catastrophe may occur that will force them out of their new home. These mental health problems must be solved so that evacuee students can keep their minds on their studies and learning.
In this article I discuss the effects of Hurricane Katrina on education and schools across the nation. I offer suggestions on an education policy that can guide state and national governments in successfully coping with the psychological, logistical, financial, and human costs, associated with educating evacuees in financially strapped school districts far away from the original site of the natural disaster.
There are many questions relating to education and schooling that must be addressed after Hurricane Katrina. As a result of this storm and the resulting floods, many schools and universities have been destroyed or made incapable of sustaining learning due to unsafe school facilities or a lack of power. Consequently, many students have been sent thousands of miles away from their former school districts to be educated until their own schools are repaired or rebuilt. Clearly, many school districts across the nation were directly affected by the catastrophe along the Gulf Coast, even though they did not experience the natural disaster itself.
In the areas affected by the hurricane, state departments of education report that in Mississippi, 131 schools serving 81,000 students were affected by the storm. In Louisiana, the hardest hit parish school districts accommodated 135,000 students. Additional students were home schooled or attended parochial schools.
Many students moved in with relatives throughout the affected area. Other students, especially those from Louisiana, moved in to 774 shelters in 23 states hundreds of miles away from the disaster area. Education officials in New Orleans made it clear that their schools, under water for several weeks, might not reopen for a year or longer.
In Mississippi some schools need roofs repaired or to be demolished. Other schools in the Gulf Coast area were used as relief shelters. A common problem for all the school districts affected by the Hurricane was their inability to assess how many teachers and other school employees were left in the affected areas-and how many might return later.
School districts throughout the United States have generously opened their schools to evacuee students from the Gulf Coast, especially New Orleans. Texas attempted to educate tens of thousands of Louisiana students until the schools reopened along the flooded city. The schools made available to evacuee students included private schools, home schools, and schools in the shelters where the evacuees lived and even tent and trailer schools.
The addition of Gulf Coast evacuee students to school districts already overcrowded and financially strained added a tremendous burden to school districts absorbing these students. To accommodate these new students, many school districts needed new teachers to teach the students, facilities to accommodate the overflow in new students, and additional materials, supplies, and textbooks to distribute to the new students whose families had little-if any-money to support their child's education.
The Gulf Coast catastrophe presented a number of short- and long-term problems for school districts serving students from this region. The problems derived from the fact that a school district's average school enrollment determines state funding and the tax base determines local funding. Some schools use an expected school enrollment figure, usually based on the rate of students graduating from the district, and students expected to enter the school district based on the local school age population. As a result of the Hurricane and displacement of thousands of Gulf Coast students, many students from the affected areas have moved into school districts along the Gulf Coast that were unaffected by the Hurricane itself. These students, in such places as Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Houston, Texas were a burden on the schools, because money was not allocated to feed, educate, transport, or supply these children with textbooks.
These financial problems come from the demand on schools to provide a variety of educational, psychological, and social services to its students. The cost of these services has been increased in school districts seeking to educate evacuee students, expenditures not planned for in the 2005 school budgets of the school districts educating evacuee students.
Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education, has made it clear that the Federal Government will allow waivers and modifications to the No Child Left Behind law and the highly qualified teacher requirement that will allow school districts affected by the Hurricane flexible means to meet the strain caused by the influx of new students on a case- specific basis. In addition, the Federal Government pledged to work with the states and individual school districts to reallocate federal funds to school districts affected by the Hurricane, and made school districts aware that they may be able to obtain additional funds via the President's request for $60 billion to be administered by FEMA that can be used for portable classrooms and transportation costs. Other funds to educate these children are expected to come from the McKinney-Vento Education for the Homeless Children and Youth Program, which ensures that homeless children will be educated. It is hoped that these measures will get displaced students enrolled in school.
These various measures will help many of the public schools recover, but they provide little consolation to the religious schools that have suffered tremendous damage as a result of the storm and will need money for school repairs and building new schools. In Mississippi, many coastal Christian schools were adversely affected by the tragedy. And in New Orleans, the Catholic school system serving over 50,000 students has shut down due to flooded schools.
The flexibility in rules and resources will provide some new money for the schools to educate the homeless students from the Gulf Coast, but these monies may not be enough to fully compensate the school districts that absorbed Gulf Coast evacuee students. This results from the fact that many school districts are already complaining that the No Child Left Behind and McKinney-Vento laws are underfund-ed. In addition, many school districts are complaining that state governments are not adequately funding school districts. This resulted in a lawsuit in Texas in which 300 schools sued the state for not adequately funding the impacted Texas schools.
The Hurricane Katrina tragedy makes it clear that we need to plan for effectively meeting the educational challenges resulting from a major natural disaster that destroys the infrastructure and social fabric necessary for schooling to take place. It is clear that even though school districts will make room for evacuee students in their schools, it is also clear that these school districts will have to find a way to pay for the schooling of these students.
A full analysis of the relief efforts of school districts that are providing schooling to students homeless as a result of the disaster must be conducted in the future. This study will provide us with insight into the best practices school districts can use to help ensure that homeless children continue their education.
The efforts of school districts around the nation to meet the schooling challenges resulting from Hurricane Katrina provide us with ideas for a number of changes in school policy that may help school districts become more effective and successful in enrolling homeless students. Major problems that school districts encounter when enrolling homeless children is the lack of birth certificates, school records, guardianship documents, and immunization records. These records are important because they help schools place students in their proper grade and protect all students from outbreaks of disease. And it is these records that have been lost as a result of the destruction or flooding of many schools in the wake of the catastrophe.
Presently we have to depend on the memory of parents and guardians when we enroll homeless children. Sometimes these people have very few if any school records that can be used to properly enroll homeless children. Therefore we cannot depend solely on parent memories of their child's academic progress and standing when we enroll these kids.
In the electronic age, this situation should not exist. The records should be available for access by school districts that need the documents to enroll homeless children. Most school districts have collected these records electronically. These records can tell us much about students. For example, are they regular students, or are they students who receive special services and need to be placed in the least restrictive environment. All of this information should be available in the student's electronic record.
Granted, privacy issues affect the distribution of a student's school records, yet some method must be found whereby school districts can access the records of homeless school students, so the students can be placed in the best learning environment that will nurture the child's learning. I recommend that student cumulative records outlining their academic progress, learning abilities and disabilities, should be maintained by the various state education agencies and probably the U. S. Department of Education. In this way, if a school district loses its records as a result of a catastrophe, they can speedily be accessed from a central state or federal agency that maintains the records.
These records should be maintained and made available to school districts admitting homeless children within and outside an individual state during an emergency. This would be a great way to facilitate effective and efficient execution of McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program. Centrally locating student records in state education agencies and the U.S. Department of Education will ensure that children can get the free and public education they deserve after a natural disaster.
The Department of Education must set aside emergency funds for school districts to rebuild or renovate schools lost due to a natural disaster and to pay for additional staff and textbooks. These funds are needed to educate evacuee children from school districts destroyed or with too many schools unsafe for schooling.
We also need to see changes in the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA must be allocated funds they can provide school districts to re(build) temporary school facilities in the event of a natural disaster and provide transportation for students to these or other schools.
Hurricane Katrina has made it evident that state and federal governments and school districts must begin to think about how children will be educated after a natural disaster. This dialogue has to take place so all children will have a free and appropriate education made available to them-that will not bankrupt school districts trying to serve the needs of thousands of students forced from their homes due to a catastrophe-and will help the children.
Duryea, S. (1998). Children' s advancement through schooling Brazil: The role of transitory shocks to household income. Inter-American Development Bank, Office of the Chief Economist, Working Paper No. 376, July.
Flug, K., Spilimbergo, A., & Wachtenheim, E. (1998). Investment in education: Do economic volatility and credit constraints matter? Journal of Development Economics, 55, 465-481.
Jacoby, H., & Skoufias, E. (1997). Risk, financial markets, and human capital in a developing country. Review of Economic Studies, 64(3), 311-335.
McBrien, J. L. (2005). Educational needs and barriers for refugee students in the United States: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 369-364.
Sinclair, M. (2001). Education in emergencies. In J. Crisp, C. Talbot, & D. B. Cipollone (Eds.), Learning for a future: Refugee education in developing countries (pp.1-84). Laussanne, Switzerland: United Nations Publications.
Skoufias, E. (2001). The impact of PROGRESA on the welfare of rural households in Mexico. Research Report. Washington, DC: IFPRI.
Skoufias, E. (2003). Economic crises and natural disaster: Coping strategies and policy implications. World Development, 31(7), 1187 1102.
Skoufias, E., & Parker, S. W. (2002). Labor market shocks and their impacts on work and schooling: Evidence from urban Mexico. IFPRI-FCND Discussion Paper #129, March. Economic Crises and Natural Disasters 1101.
Clyde Winters is a professor in the College of Education at Governors State University, University Park, Illinois.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Planning for Disaster: Education Policy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina. Contributors: Winters, Clyde - Author. Magazine title: Multicultural Education. Volume: 15. Issue: 2 Publication date: Winter 2007. Page number: 39+. © 2005 Caddo Gap Press. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.