Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reasons for Hope in NOLA: Money to be Spent, Things That Have Been Done

I went to a public event Friday that featured Greg Rigamer (a demographer), Patrick Quinlan (Ochsner CEO), and Paul Pastorek (state superintendent of education). Here are some reasons for hope that I gathered from their respective presentations on recovery in New Orleans, healthcare in New Orleans, and education in New Orleans:

  • According to Rigamer, only about a third of the money allocated for housing and infrastructure recovery has been spent. The good news: although Nagin has been no good, his tragic inefficiency in spending recovery money means that perhaps a more competent and focused Mitch administration will have some money to spend.
  • Rigamer also reported that the Army Corps has committed $15 billion to levee building, which is significant when one considers that the Army Corps only spends $2 billion nationally on levees each year.
  • Quinlan's presentation wasn't so much about healthcare in New Orleans broadly. It was more about "Ochsner is really great." Hey, that's what he's paid to say, I guess. However, on the upside, he made a great case for the excellent medical outcomes that Ochsner achieves overall. Using statistics, he made a great case for the fact that the hospitals actually do get good healthcare results in metro New Orleans relative to the rest of the country, even if we are starting with a relatively unhealthy population due to poverty, obesity, and so on.
  • Pastorek made a forceful case for the progress on educational reform in New Orleans since Katrina. Now, I know this process has been controversial in the NOLA blogging world. And I know that kids with extra needs haven't been well served by the reform process (I've experienced that in my family.) However, kids with extra needs weren't well served by the old system either. AND--and this is the thing I like about Pastorek--he holds EVERYBODY to the same standard. This is the guy who went to St. Tammany Parish and ripped public school leaders there for patting themselves on the back for their "great" results when they are educating kids from relatively wealthy families with relatively more involved parents. I like Pastorek because I think he wants to bring accountability to the system so that there is true competition between public and private schools. That's the best future for all of us--not the current system wherein many well-off families have withdrawn from the public school system and placed their children in private schools with great reputations, even thought there is no way to find out if those reputations are well-deserved.
  • Pastorek added that Louisiana is now on the cutting edge of school reform in the country and that Tennessee has used the recovery school district model as a standard for their recent reform efforts. That's something to be proud of for us. RSD: Perfect? Of course not, but light years ahead of what was here before. If we stay with this, in 10 years New Orleans will be setting a world-class standard, perhaps.

I walked out of this presentation with a good feeling about what we're up to here.

Now if we could just get us some wetlands . . .

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