NOLA after Katrina as a social experiment
Six years after the federal levees failed and 80 percent of the city was flooded, New Orleans has lost 80,000 jobs and 110,000 residents. It is a whiter and wealthier city, with tourist areas well maintained while communities like the Lower Ninth Ward remain devastated. Beyond the statistics, it is still a much contested city.
In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans saw the rise of a new class of citizens. They self-identify as YURPs -- Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals -- and they work in architecture, urban planning, education, and related fields. ["creative class"]
While the city was still mostly empty, they spoke of a freedom to experiment, unfettered by the barriers of bureaucratic red tape and public comment. Working with local and national political and business leaders, they made rapid changes in the city’s education system, public housing, health care, and nonprofit sector.
The changes in the public sector have been widespread. Shortly after the storm, the entire staff of the public school system was fired. Their union, which had been the largest union in the city, ceased to be recognized. With many parents, students and teachers driven out of the city by Katrina and unable to have a say in the decision, the state took over the city’s schools and began shifting them over to charters.
“The reorganization of the public schools has created a separate but unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including virtually all of the city’s white students, into a set of selective, higher-performing schools and most of the city’s students of color into a set of lower-performing schools,” writes lawyer and activist Bill Quigley, in a report prepared with fellow Loyola law professor Davida Finger.
In many ways, the changes in New Orleans' school system, initiated almost six years ago, foreshadowed a battle that has played out more conspicuously this year in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey, and other states where teachers and their unions were assailed by both Republican governors and liberal reformers such as the filmmakers behind Waiting for Superman.
Classic disaster capitalism. No doubt there will be similar attempts made after Irene, though on a smaller scale.