Nation's education chief visits city to monitor school reforms; opposes vouchers

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan address reporters at George Washington Carver School.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan address reporters at George Washington Carver School.

New Orleans, La.—The nation's education chief spent the day in the city to get an update on school reforms. And he also voiced his sentiments on school vouchers which have stirred up controversy in Louisiana.

Duncan's visit comes just days after Governor Bobby Jindal's school voucher program was ruled unconstitutional by a Baton Rouge judge. The vouchers which cover private school tuition were being funded with tax dollars set aside in the Minimum Foundation Program, which was set up to fund the state's public schools years ago.

Duncan opposes vouchers.

"I'm a big proponent of choice and competition, but I really want to make every single public school a great school, and so I've never supported vouchers. The overwhelming majority of children in our country, 90 to 95 percent always have, and always will attend a public school," Duncan stated during a question and answer session with news reporters.

Teachers unions have argued that the state funded vouchers will destroy public education.

Duncan toured George Washington Carver High School where students remain in trailers seven years after Hurricane Katrina. It is a campus some locals hope can be a model for the nation.

"I see some extraordinarily dedicated teachers here in less than ideal physical conditions, I still think some really important learning can and is happening," said Duncan.

The education landscape in the city changed dramatically after Hurricane Katrina swamped the city and dozens of schools. The state took control of schools which were failing before the storm and placed them in the Recovery School District, the number of charter run schools also expanded.

"The challenge for me is how do we make every single public school, a school that you, and I as parents would feel proud to send our children to and that's where I want to spend my time and energy and resources," stated Duncan.

Some charter organizations have come under fire by community leaders who said they are not inclusive enough.

"You sometimes hear the critique, well, they take in kids, but then they push them out the door, and so making sure they stick with kids," said Duncan.

Carver High was proud to host the education czar.

"It's been very difficult and for that to get recognized I think is a really powerful thing," said Carver Principal Isaac Pollack.

"My only interest is to see New Orleans be wildly successful," Duncan stated.

Carver High School is not the only school on the campus. There are two charter schools, Carver Collegiate and Carver Prep.

"A chance for Secretary Duncan and his team to take a look at one model and you know I wouldn't say that anyone is calling us a tremendous success yet, it's still really early to tell but what he really wanted to hear was some of the lessons we've learned so far," added Pollack.

"Going from a very adversarial position maybe a year ago I think this school and this community is in a very, very different spot now," said Duncan.

Duncan was to meet with community leaders in an undisclosed location.