Money Will Fund Programs Supporting Students with Behavioral Health Needs, Truancy Issues and Those Involved in the Criminal Justice System.

Since 2004, as part of their lease with the City of New Orleans, Harrah’s Casino has provided City Council with funding for our local education system. Often, it has funded critical programming for some of our city’s students districtwide who need the most support: those who are incarcerated and learn at the Travis Hill Schools, those in the therapeutic Center For Resilience program, and those who face significant challenges with attendance. 

City Council has historically been required to pass these funds directly to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) each year. In 2020, however, due to a change in Harrah’s lease, the city council now has the option to direct these funds to education initiatives outside OPSB, such as programs created directly by the City or a third party organization.

Since this change was made, the Council did not disperse much of the Harrah’s money as they debated the use of funds and the process to approve which entity and programs would receive them. This means that for the past two years, these important programs and the students who rely on their support have been caught in a state of limbo about their current and future funding.

In January, five new members joined City Council. This new Council made the important choice to fund OPSB’s priorities: Travis Hill, the Center for Resilience, and the Office of Student Support and Attendance (which staffs social workers focused on behavioral health, school attendance, discipline, and juvenile justice).

In doing this, the Council is supporting two key values in our system:

Equitable distribution of resources to meet individual student needs

In our system, most educational decisions are made by schools and networks themselves, and most programs are school- or network-based. Most educational funding goes directly to schools (based on the number of students and their additional needs), instead of sifting through layers of bureaucracy at the district level. Sometimes, however, students are coping with challenges that mean they require additional resources, supports, and expertise beyond their school. In these instances, the district steps in to help. 

For some students, that support comes through the Center for Resilience, which is a day-long therapeutic treatment and educational program for students experiencing significant behavioral health needs. Other students engage with the social workers at the Office of Student Support and Attendance, which works with students who are experiencing mental or behavioral health difficulties, or are at risk of truancy, expulsion or suspension. Because of the comprehensive and specialized services these programs provide, their costs are high, and additional funds like those from Harrah’s are necessary to sustain their work. 

Accountability for serving our students well

OPSB board members are elected by Orleans Parish residents, and through these elections, they hold the board accountable for the decisions they make in funding, supporting, and governing our schools. In turn, OPSB holds its schools and programs–like Travis Hill, the Center for Resilience, and the Office of Student Support and Attendance–accountable for providing high-quality services to our students. These layers of accountability for programs and OPSB ensure that these funds will be used most efficiently and effectively for our students.

When this year’s City Council made the unanimous choice to send the $4.6M from Harrah’s to the school board, they put their focus on equity and their faith in our district. They handed over the decision making to those with educational expertise. And most importantly, they stood behind children facing great challenges, who deserve the best education and care we can provide. 

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