Before the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina had receded, New Orleans was inundated by a wave of neoliberal prescriptions, foundation money and celebrity educators eager to dismantle the city’s public education system. The opening of public education to the market has left the residents of New Orleans with an education system that is increasingly separate and unequal. At the center of this radical neoliberal experiment is a 40‐year effort by local proponents of ‘school choice’ for a voucher program. This research examines the links between the system of forces — economic, social, political and (in the case of Katrina) natural — and the transformation of daily life within the city and metropolitan area through policy and media discourse. This article argues that prior efforts to undermine public education at the state and municipal level were key to the velocity and scope of the subsequent changes in New Orleans. Efforts to organize against these changes have focused on the role of think‐tanks and foundations at the national scale. This focus severely limits the power of local organizations to challenge those driving these changes within their communities.