Jindal has been equally forthright in tackling the problem of joblessness. Even with the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf that lasted from May to October of 2010, the state’s unemployment rate has remained below the national and southern averages since Jindal took office. Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in August, almost two percentage points lower than the national average. Many jobs are being created beyond the state’s traditional industries of oil, gas, fishing, manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. Louisiana now ranks third in film production, after California and New York.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 95,000 Louisianans work in financial activities, and 191,800 work in professional and business services (more than in the years before Katrina).
Under Jindal, Louisiana launched a program called FastStart, which seeks out any business that is relocating to Louisiana or is expanding and set to create 15 non-service jobs (manufacturing, distribution, R&D, etc.) or 50 service-industry jobs. The state uses its job-training programs to find and prepare workers to fill all of those slots, and guarantees that every trainee will be ready to work on the first day.
One of the companies using FastStart is Ormet Inc., an Ohio-based aluminum producer. When Jindal visits the Ormet plant in Ascension Parish, he and the company celebrate the reopened facility’s creation of its 250th job, all at a plant that was closed from 2006 until May. Ormet has rehired 70 employees who had worked there before. Michael Tanchuk, the CEO of Ormet, says, “The economic-development program in Louisiana is the best I’ve ever seen, and I’m sorry to tell you I’ve had many years of experience. . . . Political and regulatory uncertainty, resulting in extended delays, can kill a project. In Louisiana, the answers are fast and clear. No hesitation about what can or cannot be done.”
As fundamental as job creation is during a long recession, Jindal is most passionate when discussing changes to his state’s schools.
“The reality is, the New Orleans public-school system was horrific before the storm — even the AP commented that it was one of the worst of the worst of all the public-school systems in the country,” he says. “Over half were academically unacceptable. You couldn’t get basic supplies, like toilet paper. The schools weren’t safe. The U.S. Attorney’s office had 20 different indictments related to the public-school system. In some schools it felt like the kids were coming out knowing less than when they started.”
The state made a couple of key decisions after Katrina. The first was to put most of the New Orleans schools, all but its best, into a “recovery school district” managed by the state and not the city’s school board. The existing collective-bargaining agreement for teachers and other school employees was nullified, ending the practice of firing based on seniority (last in, first out). The state also set out to maximize the use of charter schools. After Katrina, more than 70 percent of the students in New Orleans were in charter schools. That number has fallen, but a majority of students are still in charter schools, the largest percentage of any large urban school system.
The results at one of the charter schools, New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, are a stunning rebuke to those who think that insufficient spending is what holds back students. The school, located in East New Orleans and just north of the Katrina-devastated Ninth Ward, is essentially a series of pre-constructed pods connected by wooden decks — not quite trailers, but only a step above. While the facilities are spotless and completely functional, they clearly are minimal-cost compared with those of most other schools.
Inside, the walls are covered with posters and slogans emphasizing that every student should achieve excellence and demonstrate discipline and drive at all times. Teachers are expected to be available by phone to their students until 9:30 in the evening. When Jindal and his small entourage enter a classroom, a teacher gently admonishes his students, who are buzzing about the newcomers: “Ladies and gentlemen, we often have visitors to this classroom. They are here to see your excellence — what you show me every day. When they come in, they see how hard you’re working. They don’t want to hear your voices. You are not distracted.” The students’ heads return to the worksheets before them.