After Hurricane Katrina ripped the city apart in 2005, lawmakers decided that education reform was a necessary component to successfully rebuilding New Orleans.
Chronically failing school districts have been taken over by the state. Families with students in those failed districts have been granted access to a variety of schooling options. As a result, the vast majority of New Orleans students now attend charter schools, which has led to a dramatic rise in student test scores and graduation rates.
”New Orleans has been at the forefront of education reform in our country,” Campanella said. “It’s seen tremendous growth in student achievement because of the choices that have been given to parents – everything from scholarships to virtual schools, charter schools and improved public schools.”
New Orleans’ public education system has undergone such a renaissance that last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the city for having the most improved school district in the nation.
"I continue to be in awe of the sense of urgency, the sense of commitment, the entire community getting behind the schools," Duncan said, according to NOLA.com.
Thousands expected at kickoff celebration
Thousands of school choice supporters – who represent the full spectrum of ethnic groups, income levels and political persuasions – will participate in the kickoff event, which is being held at the Lakefront Arena, located on the campus of the University of New Orleans.
What binds the different groups together is the shared belief that all families deserve the right to choose the best schooling option for their children, Campanella said.
The NSCW event is meant to rally supporters for the upcoming week, as well as to celebrate the school choice victories that occurred last year, of which there were quite a few.
In 2011, Maine became the 41st state to allow the creation of charter schools. Other states, such as Michigan and Florida, lifted caps on the number of charter schools allowed in their states.
Last week, a judge upheld Indiana’s new voucher law that allows low- and middle-income families to use state funding to attend the public or private school of their choice. The Indiana voucher program is the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation.
The new year seems equally promising. Lawmakers in Alabama and Washington state are considering bills that would allow the creation of charter schools, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is pushing for a voucher law that rivals Indiana’s in scope.
After Saturday’s rally, supporters will hold individual events in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
“There will be more than 320 events during the week,” Campanella said. “We’ve tripled the number of participants that we had last year.”
While National School Choice Week has a number of high-profile supporters – legendary comedian/actor Bill Cosby
being the most recent recruit – the movement’s success will be determined by the number of families and everyday citizens who get involved.
To participate in one of the upcoming events around the nation, or learn more about the movement, log on to www.schoolchoiceweek.com
“We’re getting more supporters every day,” Campanella said.