NOLA Public Schools' West Bank headquarters.

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday unanimously approved $4.6 million in education grant funding for three NOLA Public Schools programs designed to work with the city’s most vulnerable students. 

The funding — which was in question over the past year under the previous council — will support the Travis Hill School at the city’s juvenile detention center; the Center for Resilience, which serves students with severe behavioral health needs; and the district’s student support office, which addresses truancy.

The Harrah’s Fund education grants — money paid to the city by the casino as part of a lease agreement — had historically been given directly to the school district. But a new lease signed by the casino in 2020 broadened the council’s ability to award the grants, and last year, the city council expressed an interest in shifting the funding to early childhood education. 

In their final meeting in early January, the outgoing council voted to insert the Mayor’s Office of Youth and Families into the annual proposal process for the funds. The Mayor’s office has also pressed for expanded early childhood funding in recent years, but school district officials criticized the move. 

A few weeks later, after the newly-elected council was sworn in, they unanimously reversed course and rescinded the motion, restoring the process to a negotiation between the council and NOLA Public Schools district. 

Orleans Parish School Board President Olin Park praised the council’s decision on Thursday.  

“These are three critically important programs that serve the most vulnerable students in our city and I’m really grateful to everyone on the council for helping us get those kids the services they need,” Parker said. 

“This funding is of critical importance to help our students who can most benefit from additional programming and support,” district Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. said in a statement released by the district. “We know these programs make a significant difference in the lives of these students.”

Liz Marcell Williams, the CEO of the Center for Resilience, said the vote reflects the “original intent” of the funding, which she described as being aimed at prioritizing truancy and mental health services in the city’s unique all-charter school district. 

“A school district alone isn’t equipped to address these needs and this is the council really reaffirming it understands that,” she said. 

“I think it’s a really clear stance that the council is fully in support of our city’s most vulnerable youth and in our current climate when we’re having so many conversations about crime, juvenile crime, that there are prevention programs aimed at helping these students,” she said.

The Center for Resilience, which Williams runs, served 15 students when it opened under the state-run Recovery School District in 2015. In 2018, it shifted to a non-profit model contracting with the Orleans Parish School Board. Williams said the program now has a capacity of 50 students. 

“This affirms [the council] understand there are existing programs that are designed to minimize kids’ involvement in crime by addressing truancy, making sure kids who may make risky decisions are supported with mental health services and that kids who do become system involved are getting support.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...