Welcome to Baton Rouge, Mr. President.
We are glad to see you here again in Louisiana, in your first visit to the capital city since becoming president. We’re also glad to see you talking in a public school, McKinley High School, in a city and a state where new and innovative approaches to public education are part of our agenda for the future.
It’s an outlook we think that is shared by you and your administration, given your support for the extraordinary and nationally important experiment in charter schools in greater New Orleans.
The Crescent City has been appreciative of your leadership in this area. Your now-departed secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Arne Duncan, was for seven years a valued partner for Louisiana schools recovering from the trauma of the 2005 hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. Financial and moral support was provided.
The New Orleans experience is not the same as that of Baton Rouge, although the influx of evacuated families in 2005 was a challenge that the capital city met with an extraordinary civic effort, including the East Baton Rouge Parish public schools.
In a state where educational outcomes have been poor for a long time, things are looking up.
A rising tide of innovation is making a difference. Louisiana’s high school graduation rate — 74.6 percent — is at an all-time high. More students doing better on college admissions tests are reasons that high school performance scores have improved in Louisiana. Since 2012, 40 percent more black students earned a college-going score on the ACT.
Those “report cards” are something that Louisiana is doing right in public education.
While there’s been a lot of debate in Washington over school policies, the fact is that Louisiana — going back to Gov. Mike Foster’s administration in the mid-1990s — has been establishing benchmarks for accountability that have helped to drive progress.
It’s bipartisan and it reflects the outlook that you and Duncan have promoted at the national level.
McKinley itself is a school where innovation is happening. McKinley’s original campus was built in 1926, in the still-segregated South.
Today it teaches 1,400 diverse students, including a gifted education component. The school collaborates with nearby LSU on training teachers for Advanced Placement courses for college credit. An academy for the humanities is a partnership with the LSU English faculty.
McKinley’s physical structure reflects the willingness of East Baton Rouge Parish voters to tax themselves to fund public education in our community.
We’re glad you’re here, and enjoy your stay.