Viewers of the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl witnessed an event that transcended the importance of whether West Virginia or Georgia won. The half-time ceremony featured the awarding of a $75,000 grant from Nokia to the Desire Street Academy, a Christian middle and high school for boys, based in New Orleans. Danny Wuerffel, a Heisman Trophy winner who serves as the school’s development director, and several students accepted the award. Situated in the heart of what was the toughest area of New Orleans, students at the Academy, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, were forced to move to Atlanta, then to Florida.
Even greater assistance soon will come to the students at Desire Street Academy and other religious schools which had been displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. President George W. Bush signed the Fiscal 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Act into law late last year. Included in that enactment was the Hurricane Education Recovery Act, which is to provide federal assistance for public or religious schools having students displaced by the hurricanes. The assistance can be up to $6,000 per student and $7,500 for special-need students.
The ease with which the Defense Appropriations Bills were passed by the House and Senate obscures the twists and turns in the fight to obtain the assistance. Originally, the Senate bill, proposed by Senators Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), respectively Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, did not address the needs of students in religious and private schools displaced by the hurricanes. Fortunately, the plan advanced by President Bush recognized the need.
The importance of religious and private schools in Louisiana was made clear at a September 22, 2005 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development. Sister M. Michaeline Green, O.P., Superintendent of [Catholic] Schools for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told the Subcommittee:
Louisiana has a unique situation in that one third of all students attend nonpublic schools compared to the national average of 11%. In four of the severely impacted counties (called parishes in LA) around New Orleans, approximately 61,000 students of the 187,000 total student population attend non-public schools from PreK – grades 12. Most of these students come from low to middle income families who are making a great financial sacrifice to send their children to a school of their choice for academic, religious and safety reasons.