(Baton Rouge, LA) - A citizen survey by the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL) taken just before the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina shows most New Orleans voters think public education, civic engagement, flood protection and government hurricane preparedness have improved since the storm struck in 2005, but crime, government corruption and access to health care are worse.
While citizen attitudes were mixed on many of the issues facing the city, there was strong optimism about changes in public education and the emergence of charter schools following the state takeover of all failing public schools in New Orleans after Katrina.
“When it comes to education changes in Orleans Parish since Katrina, the survey shows people here clearly like what they see,” said Bill Hines of New Orleans who serves as CABL chairman. “They recognize that we are making progress, they don’t want to go back to the way things were in the past and they are expressing an optimism about public education in the city that I haven’t seen in my adult lifetime. People have seen education reform and they like it.”
Public Schools – Don’t Go Back to the Old Ways
“Because CABL played a leading role in the state takeover of failing schools in New Orleans, we wanted to gauge how people feel about the changes in public education four years after the storm,” said Barry Erwin, CABL President. “An overwhelming majority are pleased with the results.”
When asked if they would prefer to continue with the changes in education since Katrina or go back to the way it was before, 74 percent said continue with the changes and do not go back. In fact, education stands as a strong positive in New Orleans’ recovery efforts. When asked in an open-ended question to list things that are better than they were before Hurricane Katrina, one in four voters named education, which was the number one response.
The survey also revealed strong support for charter schools in New Orleans and the choices that are now available to parents:
- 74 percent of those surveyed support charter schools where a majority of New Orleans public school students are now enrolled,
- 62 percent support converting more traditional public schools into public charter schools, and
- 77 percent like the current system that in most cases allows parents to pick the public school their children will attend as opposed to the school board assigning students to individual schools as was done in the past.
In 2010, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will consider whether some schools that were taken over by the state should be returned to the Orleans Parish School Board or continue to operate within the Recovery School District. Voters have clear concerns about the idea of returning the schools to the local school board with 45 percent saying the schools should not be returned and 38 percent saying they might be returned over the next several years.
When given information that more seniors are graduating under the current system and fewer schools are failing, the opposition to returning schools to the school board increases with 51 percent saying they should not be returned. “This clearly shows that under any scenario well over 60 percent of voters don’t want schools to go back to the Orleans Parish School Board anytime in the immediate future. It also suggest that if new post-Katrina schools continue to show academic gains like we expect, the opposition to returning schools to the school board will only grow,” said Erwin. “I think this shows that people will want to stick to what’s working.”
Finally, the education section of the survey asked voters about school infrastructure. Roughly a billion dollars will be spent to build new schools and renovate old ones over the next five years. When asked who they trust more to get the job of rebuilding schools done right, 66 percent said the state Recovery School District versus only 13 percent for the Orleans Parish School Board.
Progress in Other Areas Since Katrina Mixed
CABL also asked citizens about their views on other issues facing the city since Katrina. Overall, a plurality of voters said they feel things in New Orleans are headed in the right direction, with 44 percent saying the city is on the right track and 33 percent saying things are on the wrong track. The poll probed the participants, asking them in open-ended questions to list things that are better and worse than before Katrina.
While the results were varied, the top answers volunteered by participants about what things they think are better since the storm include:
· Schools/education 25 %
· Civic pride or a sense of community 18 %
· Housing/better construction/lower costs 12%
As far as things that are worse than before Katrina, the results indicate a clear consensus. Forty-five percent of participants listed crime and drugs. The next nearest answer was government corruption or a lack of leadership, at 22 percent.
The survey then listed a number of specific issues facing New Orleans and asked participants whether they felt the situation was better or worse with each of them. Results are charted in the accompanying graph.
Generally, citizens feel better about hurricane preparedness, the rise of civic engagement and levees and flood protection.
They fail to see improvement in crime, the quality and availability of health care, and roads and transportation infrastructure.
“It is encouraging, but not surprising that the issue of civic engagement emerged as a strong positive since Katrina,” Hines said. “I think it’s clear the people of New Orleans feel more empowered and involved in what’s going on in the city, even if we’re not all totally satisfied with the results.”
And a strong majority of those who are currently living in New Orleans aren’t going anywhere. When asked about where they plan to be four more years after Katrina, 12 percent said they’ll be living somewhere else, 15 percent are waiting to see progress before deciding, but 69 percent say they plan to stay in New Orleans.
The survey was commissioned by CABL and conducted by pollster Verne Kennedy of Market Research Insight. It surveyed 500 registered voters August 6 – 11 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. Demographically 59 percent of participants were African- American and 39 percent Caucasian.
Founded in 1962, CABL works to improve the quality of life for Louisiana citizens by raising awareness of critical issues, promoting sound policy, fostering civic leadership and championing government accountability.
For more information, call Barry Erwin at 225-344-2225.
Click Here for Complete Poll Results (PDF)