President  |  Vice President  |  First Lady  |  Mrs. Cheney  |  News & Policies 
History & ToursKids  |  Your Government  |  Appointments  |  JobsContactGraphic version

Email Updates  |  Español  |  Accessibility  |  Search  |  Privacy Policy  |  Help

Printer-Friendly Version   Email this page to a friend

Privacy Policy

Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Margaret Spellings
Secretary of Education

September 6, 2005

Margaret Spellings

Good afternoon. As the new school year begins, our thoughts and prayers are with the hundreds of thousands of school-age children and their families who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. President Bush has directed federal agencies to do everything in their power to support the victims of this heart wrenching tragedy. At the U.S. Department of Education, we are committed to working closely with state education officials all across the country to help them enroll students, including students with disabilities, displaced by the hurricane. Experts tell us these children will benefit greatly from the structure and normalcy provided by school. We have encouraged states to streamline the enrollment process so these students and their families can once again become part of a nurturing community. I'm thrilled that educators all across America are responding with open arms and without hesitation. Our approach will be to help welcome these kids and worry about the fine print later.

Carrie, from Gulfport, MS writes:
Teachers are desperately searching for information on their students, schools, paychecks, and reopening dates. We need a centralized location to address each of these issues. Please coordinate some effort. We want to find our students.

Margaret Spellings
Carrie, first let me say how sorry I am for everything that you’ve gone through with Hurricane Katrina. I am in regular contact with your state education commissioner, Hank Bounds. Department officials, including Dr. Henry Johnson, the former state commissioner there and now Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, will be in contact via conference call with state education leaders in Jackson, Mississippi tomorrow.

Your state department of education is the best place to find the information you need, and is frequently updating information specific to Hurricane Katrina on its website. This link addresses many of your questions:

We have also created a section on the U.S. Education Department's website that matches schools' needs with businesses and organizations that would like to help:

Anthony, from Baton Rouge writes:
Secretary Spellings: Would you mind to provide in SPECIFIC DETAILS what educational relief, federal funds or supports for the victims of the hurricane, how students can find help and where, especially minority students. Many thanks. Anthony

Margaret Spellings
Hello, Anthony, and thank you for writing to me during what I’m sure is a very challenging time in Baton Rouge. Let me start by assuring you that we are working closely with State and local officials in your State and the other affected areas to help meet the educational needs of the hundreds of thousands of impacted children and their families. There will be several specific sources of relief available. Funds will be available through FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- related to school reconstruction and associated needs such as temporary educational facilities and student transportation costs. The Department of Education is looking at how Federal education funds can be used with the most flexibility in the affected areas. And the President and Congress will be providing specific disaster relief funds -- $10.5 billion has already been passed, and the President has called this a “down payment” on funds to be provided. The President has asked me to develop a plan to provide additional resources so that schools can be compensated for educating students in their districts.

melissa, from chicago il writes:
I am a 6th grade teacher in chicago and my students and myself would like to help displaced children who can not attend school at the moment. We would like to raise money or school supplies and make sure they get somewhere where they can actually be used. Do you have any advice and resources as to where donate? Thank you.

Margaret Spellings
Melissa, thanks so much for teaching and for setting a terrific example for your students. Today President Bush announced the "Hurricane Help for Schools" link on to serve as a connection between Americans willing to give and the needs of the affected children and schools districts serving displaced students. I have no doubt that the response not only from companies and organizations, but also from schools around the country and students like yours will be extraordinary. I am deeply impressed and touched, both as Secretary of Education, and as a mother of a public school student, by what I have already seen. The compassion of American citizens is sorely needed and truly remarkable.

Kevin, from Big Lake, Minnesota writes:
You stated on NPR on 9405 that all provisions of NCLB will apply to the children affected by the hurricane. This implies that, if a school admits a number of these children, and they fail to perform adequately in testing, the school could be stigmatzed and ultimately suffer adverse consequences for taking them in. It seems unusually perverse to force schools to decide whether they should do the right thing for the Katrina children and risk their own students' future, or protect their own students by refusing to serve these traumatized children.

Margaret Spellings
Hi Kevin, thanks for your question. One of our highest priorities is ensuring that students affected by the hurricane are back in school as soon as possible. And I am pleased that states and school districts across the country are already taking steps to address the needs of students who have been left homeless. As these most immediate needs are met, we will be working closely with state and local officials in the coming days to discuss the implications for No Child Left Behind state testing and accountability requirements, and on a case-by-case basis, we will be flexible with certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act as they emerge. I am committed to implementing No Child Left Behind in a sensible way and will do so in this case, as well.

No Child Left Behind represents the commitment of this nation to ensure that all students get a quality education, and honoring this commitment is one of the most important things we can do for the schoolchildren affected by this disaster. We cannot begin to express our appreciation to the schools that are accepting children affected by the hurricane Katrina and we are working to ensure that these schools will have the resources necessary to ensure that all children that come in their doors receive a quality education.

dave, from michigan writes:
I know this has nothing to do with education but why aren't the flags ordered at half mass now?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for your question, Dave. On September 4th, President Bush, as a mark of respect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, ordered that the United States flag be flown at half-staff until sunset, Tuesday, September 20, 2005. You can read the Proclamation by the President here.

Eileen, from Commonwealth of PA writes:
Secretary Spellings:Educating the victim children of the Katrina Hurricane is extremely important. Will there be any Federal Aid for school districts that will be educating these children? School Districts will have to purchase additional supplies, staff etc. that are not currently in their budgets. Thank you for your response.

Margaret Spellings
Eileen, thank you for your concern regarding the education of the children displaced by Hurricane Katrina. My primary goal as Secretary of Education is to stabilize the educational process for all affected students, so that they regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. We at the Department of Education are in constant contact with states from across the country who are welcoming these students. Thousands of displaced students already have been enrolled in schools in many states. The Department of Education is working with States and districts to make sure that Federal education funds – including those made available by the President and Congress specifically for disaster relief -- can be used with as much flexibility as possible in the affected areas. In addition, the Department of Education has launched the “Hurricane Help for Schools” webpage at to serve as a nationwide clearinghouse for addressing the needs of the affected children and schools districts serving displaced students.

Sarah, from Round Rock Texas writes:
I would like to know if there are going to be any additional funds allocated to the school districts of surrounding states (TX, OK, FL, AR) that are now having to provide education for the children of the refugees. I know in my daughter's class alone she has already had two new students join from New Orleans. One of those children has still yet to hear word on his mother's status. Also at work, a friend, has now "inherited" 12 additional family members who will be enrolling their children in local schools. I know President Bush is wanting "no child left behind" and I would like to see that happen. I also would like to see our children receive the educationfunding they need to make that happen. Thank you for your time.

Margaret Spellings
Thank you for this important question, Sarah. The heartfelt welcome that my fellow Texans have given to displaced students has been very impressive and gratifying, and we want these States and districts to know that we will work closely with them to ensure that the needs of all students are met. The Department of Education is working with States and districts to make sure that Federal education funds – including those made available by the President and Congress specifically for disaster relief -- can be used as flexibly as possible in the affected areas. In addition, President Bush announced this afternoon the launching of the “Hurricane Help for Schools ” webpage to serve as a nationwide clearinghouse for addressing the needs of the affected children and schools districts serving displaced students.

Nancy, from Jamesburg, New Jersey writes:
My son was goin to attend Tulane University In New Orleans. He will try to register here in New Jersey for this first semester. Will his student loans and grants be transfered to the college he will attend for this fall semester? If this is not done this will cause an undue fiancial hardship on our family. thank you for your guidance

Margaret Spellings
One of the biggest problems facing students is their ability to temporarily enroll at another institution and receive federal student aid. In order to assist students and institutions in this situation, the Department of Education provided a very simple statement that a student should sign and provide to the new institution. That statement will allow institutions to award federal student aid to these students who are enrolled on a temporary basis as visiting or non-regular students.

For some students, their home institution will have already received their financial aid funds and the students will be unable to retrieve those funds in order to pay tuition and other expenses at the new institution. In those cases, the Department has advised the new institution to calculate aid awards and provide students with the first disbursement of funds for which they are eligible. Over the next several weeks and before second disbursements are scheduled to be made, the Department will provide further guidance with respect to the awarding of additional funds. The Department will determine about what to do with the funds sitting at Tulane or other schools devasted by the hurricane over the next few weeks.

Barbara, from Nashville, TN writes:
As we accept students who are displaced by the hurricane, could we also accept teachers? If we verify certification, and employment status in their home states, could other states put theses teachers to work? I know there would be details to work out, but it seems like a step in recovery for teachers and students alike. I have sent an email to Governor Bredesen and the State Department of Education in Tennnessee (where I am a teacher) on this subject.

Margaret Spellings
Barbara, I have been overwhelmed and touched - but not surprised - by the way educators have embraced the people of the Gulf Coast region. We will work with States to help eliminate any barriers that may prevent displaced teachers from working in other States. For example, we will work with affected areas to grant needed flexibility with regard to highly qualified teacher requirements.

Also, I look forward to my meeting tomorrow with more than 40 education groups from across the nation to coordinate and deploy resources in order to quickly and completely respond to student- and school-related needs.

Christopher, from Pine Bluff, AR. writes:
I am a student at Southern University at New Orleans and would like to continue my studies, eventhough "Katrina" has disturbed my plans; where do students like myself find assistance that would make this easier. We have contacted some schools but have been told that we have to pay money that many of us just don't have, especially now. What should we do?

Margaret Spellings
Christopher, I am glad to see that you are safe and ready to continue with your studies. One thing you should do is apply for federal financial aid at the new insitution you will attend. The Department has advised Institutions of Higher Education to calculate financial aid awards and provide students with their first disbursment of financial aid even if you have already received aid at Southern University.

Also, I know many universities have offered free tuition to college students affected by Hurricane Katrina including the University of Arkansas. The "Hurricane Help for Schools" webpage at also provides information for higher education students. Colleges and universities offering admission will be able to post this on the site, along with additional information on assistance they can provide. In addition, the Department of Education has already announced that affected college students will be able to defer repayment of school loans. And the Department is exploring the legal avenues available to redirect existing Departmental funds toward relief.

Anne, from West Palm Beach Florida writes:
I am concerned about the education of refugees from the Gulf of Mexico. I looked on the U.S. Dept. of Ed's website but see no emergency information. Are there plans for portable classrooms outside of the Houston Astrodome to address the immediate educational needs of our nation's children?

I will be traveling to the area with the American Red Cross to provide mental health counseling but I am concerned about the progress of education and feel this issue could be addressed--particulaly with the deployment of retired or pre-service education students who are working towards credentialing.

Thank you. Dr. Anne Rakip

Margaret Spellings

Dr. Rakip, thanks for providing your mental health services to the affected communities – it’s so vitally important that we pay attention to the emotional as well as physical needs of children and their families. The Health and Human Services Department has provided a helpful link for teachers and others responding to the mental health needs of children affected by traumatic events, such as the hurricane:

We can also help provide resources to the schools across the country, which are opening their doors to these students. Today President Bush announced, "Hurricane Help for Schools," an online connector on, which matches the needs of schools taking on student evacuees with businesses and organizations that can help.

My primary goal is to stabilize the educational process for all affected students so they regain a sense of normalcy. We are in constant contact with states from across the country that have welcomed in students. These states are allowed through FEMA funding to receive temporary facilities in order to serve displaced students.

And the Department of Education will work with affected areas to determine what flexibility may be needed in No Child Left Behind, particularly with regard to highly qualified teacher requirements so that we can be sure there are enough teachers for these children. Thanks again for volunteering to help.

Margaret Spellings

Thank you for your questions, many of which reflected the concern of the American people for the children affected by this tragedy. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is beyond comprehension and our thoughts are prayers are with everyone whose lives have been affected. I can assure you that we will continue to do all we can to help displaced children, their families and the schools who have welcomed them in this time of crisis. We will provide resources, flexibility and increased coordination and support for these children.

Printer-Friendly Version   Email this page to a friend

Issues In Focus

More Issues more issues

  |   News Current News Press Briefings Proclamations   |   Executive Orders   |   Radio   |   Appointments   |   Nominations Application   |   Offices   |   Freedom Corps   |   Faith-Based & Community   |   OMB   |   More Offices   |   Major Speeches   |   Iraq Transition   |   State of the Union   |   Saddam Capture   |   UN Address   |   National Address   |   Iraqi Freedom   |   National Address