Education Hurdles Linger In Katrina's Wake

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 8: Douglass Elementary principal, Sue Ann Payne (L), is hugged by a new student as she welcomes evacuee children to her school September 8, 2005 in Houston, Texas. About 175 students are registered at Douglass which was closed for budgetary reasons, but the Houston Independence School District (HISD) reopened the facility for children of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. (Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images)
Thousands of Gulf Coast students are still displaced two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region, and millions of dollars worth of school reconstruction projects remain unfunded, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation's report, billed as the first independent, overall assessment of education in the region since the storm, urges the federal government to adopt a "new response" to restore struggling educational institutions.

"It means doing a full assessment of what the childcare centers, preschools and K-12 schools need to restore themselves. That's a lot different from throwing a few million dollars into a bill as it's going through the hopper," said Steve Suitts, the foundation's program director.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said the findings should "serve as an important tool to Congress as we further our efforts to reconstruct schools in the Gulf Coast region."

CBS News Poll: Little Progress Seen Since Katrina
The foundation analyzed government data, school records and private surveys to estimate the scale of damage and displacement after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005.

Among its findings:

  • Only 2 percent of the federal government's hurricane-related funding went toward education recovery.
  • The costs of hurricane destruction in K-12 and higher education were estimated at $6.2 billion, but only $1.2 billion in federal funding had been committed to restoring physical structures and property. Some rebuilding funds have come from the local and state levels and insurance, but several projects are unfinished.
  • Displaced students re-enrolled in schools in 49 states, but a lack of adequate federal funding meant that schools with the greatest number of displaced students had insufficient classrooms, staff and supplies to support them. The report found that as many as 15,000 K-12 public school students and 35,000 college students in Louisiana and Mississippi missed school last year due to lingering problems associated with Katrina.
  • Nearly one out of every six students in Louisiana's public colleges and universities dropped out for the 2005-06 school year. In the 2006-07 school year, more than 26,000 students from Louisiana public colleges and almost 9,000 Mississippi college students remained out of school.

    Despite the funding issues, education officials in Mississippi and Louisiana said they are seeing progress within their public school systems.

    Mississippi Education Superintendent Hank Bounds said K-12 enrollment in the six coastal counties was at nearly 93 percent. Reconstruction of some buildings has been slow, he said, but "given everything that has taken place, I think that the schools are doing remarkably well."

    He said Mississippi's schools received $300 million in restart funds from the federal government.

    The state's higher education system along the coast also appears to be rebounding. Classes have resumed at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Park campus, which was severely damaged by the hurricane, and enrollment is near it's pre-Katrina level, said Robert Bass, project director of Gulf Coast operations for the state College Board.

    Louisiana created incentive programs to encourage students to return to colleges there, said Kevin Hardy, a Board of Regents spokesman. The most recent came during the summer legislative session when Louisiana lawmakers approved the Go Grant, a need-based college aid program that would award up to $2,000 to full-time students.

    "We're still down some 20,000 students in our public colleges and universities," Hardy said. "The Go Grant was initiated to get enrollment up and target those who are most in need of an opportunity for access."

    Clyburn, who toured the Gulf Coast this month with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and also visited the region last year, said he found "vast and overwhelming" complexities associated with restoring the coast's public education system.

    "I have seen firsthand that the post-hurricane response to rebuilding the public education infrastructure in the Gulf Coast has been inadequate and improvements must be made," he said.