"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, August 31, 2007

George Bush Cares About Toyota Dealerships

If you thought that Katrina relief from Bush Co. depended largely upon political affiliation, you would be right. Lardy lobbyist turned goveronor, Haley Barbour (R), of Mississippi, has received disproportionate amounts in relief for his cronies as compared to Blanco's (D) Louisiana. And if you thought that most of the aid that IS going to Louisiana is going outside New Orleans, you would be right again.

In order to buy another statehouse for the GOP, federal cash is being handed out all over Louisiana in places needing it much less than it is needed in NOLA. In fact, only a tenth of a percent of the federal GO Funds are going to fund New Orleans projects:

The giant steel beams of Price LeBlanc's new Toyota dealership reveal an emerging structure that rivals the size of many sports stadiums. Hundreds of construction workers swarm the site, assembling what will soon become a $20-million vehicle showroom — all funded through federal tax breaks.

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress approved billions of dollars in tax-free bonds to stimulate rebuilding along the Gulf Coast. It's called the Gulf Opportunity Zone — or GO Zone — and includes dozens of counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. But as new developments like Price LeBlanc's Toyota dealership cash in on federal aid, a trend is taking shape. The dealership is in Baton Rouge, nearly a hundred miles inland from Katrina's wrath.

Finally, if you thought that institutions serving wealthier white constituencies are receiving a disproportianate amount of Katina aid, you would still be scoring a hundred percent. A clip from a report on the meager educational assistance in the Gulf region:

. . . .As of the start of this academic year, the federal government has committed roughly $2.5 billion to relief and recovery relating to education after Katrina, the report says, citing the Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Department of Education. That amounts to two percent of the country’s Katrina-related disaster funding. Hurricane funds made up less than 2.5 percent of the U.S. Education Department’s expenditures over the past two years, according to the report.

“What has been done thus far by the federal government by any measure is grossly inadequate,” said Lynn Huntley, president of the Southern Education Foundation. “What’s missing is a comprehensive plan for education recovery.”

A few months after Katrina, in an effort to quantify the storm’s effect on 27 colleges along the Gulf Coast, higher education associations put together a comprehensive estimate of $1.2 billion in estimated physical damages to the campuses (which those who calculated that amount said was conservative), and potential losses of $230 million in tuition refunds to students who left or were expected to leave.

In December 2005, Congress approved $200 million in aid for colleges, which was split largely between Louisiana and Mississippi — with a small percentage going to institutions that temporarily housed transferring students. Subsequent supplemental appropriations of less than $100 million have also gone to assist higher education.

Much has been said about how the federal aid was distributed. The Louisiana Board of Regents determined in early 2006 that $75 million of the initial aid would be spread across its institutions based on a formula taking into account enrollment, lost tuition revenue and financial aid budgets. (And, controversially, not physical damage caused by the hurricane.) Colleges there also used $8.5 million in federal funds to offer special need-based scholarships for displaced students to return to both public and private colleges in Louisiana. Distribution of funds was based on the number of students colleges had in fall 2004 who were from areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In that first round, Tulane University, with a large student body and higher tuition than other institutions in the region, received the most aid, followed by the University of New Orleans and Delgado Community College, the two-year college of New Orleans. Dillard University, which had roughly 2,000 students but incurred the worst physical damage, received less than the others.

Mike Strecker, a spokesman for Tulane, said the university hasn’t paid attention to and is not concerning itself with funding comparisons among Gulf Coast institutions.

The report cites state and federal figures showing that even though Louisiana suffered more than four times the damage to its campuses than did Mississippi, the repair funding it received is only marginally greater than its neighboring state.

“Where is the equity in education resource allocation?” Huntley asked.

Steve Suitts, the report’s author and program coordinator at the foundation, said it makes no sense that Louisiana colleges, hit hardest by the hurricane and also by enrollment drops last fall, wouldn’t receive the lion’s share of the funding. The Education Department should focus more on distributing aid based on need, he said, particularly because the Louisiana colleges also are the ones educating some of the poorest students.

Suitts called for better tracking of students who move in and out of colleges in the region. Data show that the South still maintained the largest share of the students who transferred after Katrina, though many others went to the coasts. . . .

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