Planning for Disaster: Education Policy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

By Winters, Clyde | Multicultural Education, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

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. …

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