First Lady Laura Bush urged educators from around the country to teach in the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast states, saying that the reopening of schools is vital to the region's recovery.

"People want good schools," Bush told a crowd Tuesday that included church, state and local leaders and students at St. Rosalie, a Catholic school, in suburban New Orleans.

While work remains — not all school districts in Louisiana have reopened since the 2005 hurricanes, she said — Bush said she was encouraged by the progress she's seen from Florida to Texas.

Bush, a former librarian, has provided $2 million to 40 schools since Hurricane Katrina through her foundation's Gulf Coast Library Recovery Initiative. On Tuesday, she toured St. Rosalie's library, a grant beneficiary that now has new books and shelves.

She also ate lunch with young people at Cafe Reconcile, in New Orleans, and planned to visit a program that allows children affected by the hurricane to express their feelings through music and art.

Bush said reopening schools, like rebuilding homes, are a priority in the region.

"As we all know, young people's success begins with a good education," she said.

For years before Katrina, New Orleans public schools were in disarray and considered among the worst in the country. On Saturday, police chief Warren Riley blamed an inadequate education system and lack of job opportunities, over several decades, for giving rise to the violence now gripping the city.

Since Katrina, new charter schools have cropped up in New Orleans, alongside schools run by the state and local school board.