Sunday, March 15, 2009

You Get Out of it What You Put Into It

The struggles in the school system of Florida are significant. I hope that our troubles are an anomaly but I doubt it. Classroom teachers are being let go and basic supplies (paper clips, toilet paper, loose leaf, pens and pencils) are not easy to get from the schools. The school district does not have the money to meet its basic bills. Choices were made by the public, and by politicians that created a situation that has been significantly magnified by the economic downturn.
When I first started teaching (mid 1990s), I was a bright eyed, bushy tailed history teacher just coming off work on Capitol Hill. I’ve always worked in the public school system (mostly Title I). I really like the idea of doing a job where I can be a positive influence on people. I still like the idea. I’ve always wondered what is the difference between a high performing school and a school that struggles.
For those readers in and around New Orleans, there are actually some very good public schools in this country. The answer for education is not necessarily privatization of schools. While charter schools might be appealing to some they are not affordable to everybody. I hear someone out there sitting at there computer screen saying “ But that is what the vouchers are for”. It is my belief that vouchers will do nothing to help families move their children from a low performing public school to a high performing private school. This should not shock anyone but there are some private schools where the education is not exactly stellar. By the way, for the purposes of full disclosure, I attended both public and private schools as a child.
If the government sets up a voucher program then they will need to publicize it. I will presume that the government program will give every family $3,000 (arbitrary figure) per child as a voucher to go to any school. What is to stop the upper echelon private schools from raising their tuition rates by that same exact figure? For those of you saying that would be discriminatory, I don’t believe so. As long as the school raises their rates on all students equally then there is no argument concerning discrimination.
What brings all of this up? Why write an article on education concerns with the banking crisis, various bailouts and China making bombastic comments left and right? Well, dear reader, this is the time of year that standardized tests are being administered. In Florida, it is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT); in Louisiana it is the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP). Numerous other states have tests similar to these. These are the tests that determine the success or failure not only of our children/students, but they are also the instruments used to determine the success of schools as a whole.
This test is given at numerous grade levels throughout the career of a student (while they both give it earlier as well, La. & FL both give it to students in 8th and 12th grade). On an individual level if a student does not test well on the FCAT he or she cannot get the standard High School Diploma. That student might have a 3.0 or higher but not test well, and will be saddled with a certificate of attendance or participation rather than a High School Diploma. In Florida that Certificate of Attendance will get you into a Junior or Community College, but not a traditional four/five year institution.
At the school level teachers and or administrators are pressured to bring up test scores. Teach the students the material, but also teach them how to take the test. Give them practice tests; teach them strategies do whatever you have to do to get these kids ready for the Test. Now why are we as a nation all pushing these standardized tests? Why is it a national belief that public schools are failing this generation? What is the difference between a good school and a bad school?
I’ve always heard that the schools need more money. I’ve always heard that some teachers are better than others, and we need to get paid more. In my various teaching jobs over the last 7 years; this is the 1st time I can agree with these statements. However, while I agree with these statements, that is not my belief as to why some schools are more successful than others.
Throughout my life, I’ve taken part in numerous organizations. There is a saying I learned in a high school fraternity, many years ago. ‘You get out of this what you put into it’. Public schools need funding, and teachers, they need capital improvement. They need many things that I’ve not mentioned. That being said some are successful, and some are not.
The teachers at a private school are trained in the same education schools as public school teachers. We read the same professional literature and get many of the same continuing education courses. By the way public school teachers, while woefully underpaid, are generally paid better than their private school counterparts.
If all other things are equal, such as school funding teacher-student ratio, quality of materials etc., there is only one significant difference between a high performing school and a low performing school. The only real difference is parental involvement.
If the community of families that make up any given school make education a priority then their children, those students, and that school will be successful. If the parents figure it is the responsibility of the school to educate, counsel, raise, and discipline their children then those parents are not involved enough. Generally, students with parents who are involved, get better grades.
There are numerous ways the education system can improve and this one does not cost any federal dollars. If you want your daughter or son to get the best education she/he can take a few minutes to ask about school. In my opinion if parents make education a priority at that level then the system might improve more than people think.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Public Invited to Comment on LRA Plan


March 13, 2009


Christina Stephens
Louisiana Recovery Authority

Public Invited to Comment on Amendments to Louisiana's Action Plan for Gustav, Ike Funding

BATON ROUGE, La. - The Louisiana Recovery Authority and the Office of Community Development on Thursday published the first amendment to the state's action plan for spending its allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant funds set aside for recovery from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, outlining programs aimed at addressing housing and infrastructure recovery, as well as assisting the agriculture and fisheries industries and providing funds for coastal restoration.

Action Plan Amendment No. 1 includes program details for:

Coastal Communities recovery, $15 million, to be administered by the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration:
Sustainable Coastal Communities Program;
Public Facilities and Improvements;
Wetlands Restoration;
Agricultural aid, $30 million, to be administered by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry:
Louisiana Farm Recovery Loan and Grant Program;
Louisiana Agribusiness Recovery Loan Assistance Program;
Louisiana Critical Farm Infrastructure Grant Program;
Fisheries aid, $15 million, to be administered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries:
Critical Fisheries Infrastructure Program (Mobile Ice Fleets);
Commercial Fishing Gear Program;
Sustainable Coastal Communities Program;
Recreational Fishing Access and Recovery Program.
The amendment also includes more details about housing and infrastructure programs to be administered by individual parishes.

Citizens, community leaders and elected officials can access the plans and submit comments online by visiting and opening "Action Plan Amendment 1 to the Action Plan for the Utilization of CDBG Funds in Response to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike." A copy of the plans can be requested by calling (225) 219-9600.

The public can submit comments several ways:

Using the online form at;
Emailing them to;
Mailing them to Disaster Recovery Unit, P.O. Box 94095, 70804-9095, Attn: Paul Catrou;
Faxing them to the attention of Paul Catrou at (225) 219-9605.
To use federal CDBG funds and to amend existing disaster recovery plans, states must present action plan amendments for federal approval, following a public comment period. The LRA will address the amendment at its March 18, 2009, meeting, before forwarding it to the Legislature for approval.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced last week in New Orleans that HUD had approved Louisiana's plan for using its Gustav and Ike funding. So far, HUD has allocated $438 million to Louisiana for recovery from the 2008 storms.

Last fall, Congress set aside a $6.1 billion pool of CDBG funds for states affected by disasters in 2008. HUD has allocated the first third of the funding and will allocate the remaining funds in the coming weeks. Louisiana anticipates that it could get as much as $800 million total between the two rounds.

The state will set aside 25 percent of its total allocation for projects dealing with rental housing, agriculture and fisheries recovery and hurricane protection. The bulk of the funds will be allocated to the parishes based on their level of damage. Parishes will select from a menu of options and decide how they will spend the funds.

Created in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is the coordinating and planning body leading the most extensive rebuilding effort in American history. The central point for hurricane recovery in Louisiana, the LRA works closely with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) and partners with state and federal agencies to oversee more than $20 billion worth of programs, speed the pace of rebuilding, remove hurdles and red tape and ensure that Louisiana recovers safer and stronger than before.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Housing Units Coming.... LRA Press Release

State of Louisiana Funds Two Workforce 
Rental Complexes in New Orleans
Preserve, Meridian Developments Hold Grand Opening on Tulane Avenue Corridor

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Representatives from the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the Office of Community Development and the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency joined investors, lawmakers and city officials at today's grand opening of two new multi-family rental housing developments in mid-city New Orleans, representing a combined public and private investment of more than $60 million.
The workforce housing developments, the Preserve and the Meridian, used $17.2 million in Community Development Block Grants from a pool of federal disaster recovery funds earmarked for low-to-moderate income households. The CDBG funds were "piggybacked" by the LRA onto almost $3 million of annual GO Zone Housing Tax Credits administered through the LHFA.
Paul Rainwater, LRA executive director said, "When hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana, more than 82,000 units, or 47 percent of the rental housing in the state, were damaged or destroyed. In New Orleans alone, we lost more than 44,000 rental units. These new workforce housing developments will help restore critically needed rental stock to a valued workforce that drives our rebuilding efforts. Our recovery needs workers, and workers need affordable housing."
The new apartment complexes are located along the Tulane Avenue corridor, a section of the city that is vital to the growth of New Orleans because of its proximity to the central business district and the proposed medical complex.
At the Preserve, developer Domain Companies used $15.9 million in CDBG funding and $1.6 million in federal Go Zone Housing Tax Credits to create 183 units - of which 60 percent are market-rate rentals and 40 percent are workforce housing units.
At the Meridian, developer Domain Companies used $1.3 million in CDBG funding and $1.2 million in housing tax credits to create 72 units - of which 100 percent are workforce housing units.
Louisiana has awarded a total of 57 Piggyback projects in areas of the state most impacted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, amounting to more than $580 million. Twenty-four of the projects, or 42 percent, either have closed on their financing packages or are under construction.
In total, the Piggyback program will create 8,185 rental units to help replace housing stock lost in the storms. More than 80 percent, nearly 7,000 units, will be built in the New Orleans metro area. Right now, 3,831 units are under construction statewide.
A total of 1,800 units are anticipated to come online by June, with an anticipated total of 3,200 units online by Dec. 31.