Back in January, I visited Katrina evacuees in Atlanta. I vividly recall a conversation with one young mother, Shajuan Harris, who tightly held her child and tearfully told me about her top priority for recovery. Good schools were more important than housing, she said, adding that she would live in a shack if she could return to a better New Orleans school system.
The one thing that would encourage Ms. Harris to move home is the state takeover of the New Orleans school system. She is even considering a run for the school board to keep our reforms going.
Like many parents, being away from home increased Ms. Harris' appreciation for education. I believe a better school system will bring this family -- and thousands of others -- back home. Like me, they all recognize that good education is vital to our recovery.
Hurricane Katrina exposed the severity of Louisiana's poverty to the nation and the world. Our legacy of poverty is directly linked to our history of poor education. As I said in my inaugural address, education is poverty’s mortal enemy.
Retaining quality teachers by offering competitive salaries will fortify Louisiana's recovery after generations of educational neglect. Studies show that student performance is directly linked to quality teachers.
If we value our children's education, then we must value the strength of our teachers. We should pay them a decent salary.
We must also bring back our good teachers. Many of them evacuated and are teaching in other states for higher pay. We find ourselves in the bizarre and difficult situation of recruiting our own teachers to return home.
I'm taking the bold and important step of proposing that our public school teachers get a necessary and well-deserved raise of $1,500 a year. Investing $105 million in our teachers is an investment in our future, in our recovery, and in our children. Our public school teachers deserved this raise before Katrina and Rita and they deserve it even more today.
By any measurement, Louisiana has seen great gains in education: our pre-K program gets national attention, our accountability program is paying dividends; our teacher-training efforts earn national praise.
I was in the Legislature in the 1980’s and saw our education system dismantled. Devaluing education discouraged our young people and professionals from making their futures in Louisiana, and the brain-drain began.
The two storms started a second round of intellectual looting. We have to stem that tide now or we will not have a full recovery. I believe that this plan will do just that and steer our education system along the right path.
I am committed to education because education is the foundation of this recovery and of our future.
This is the right thing to do for our state and our children.