Measuring Outcomes for Private Schools that Teach Kids with Disabilities

Location of schools belonging to the Virginia Association of Independent Specialized Education Facilities. See member list here.

There are more than 90,000 kids classified with disabilities in Virginia’s public school system. They typically require more resources than other students — smaller class sizes, educational assistants, and the like — and local school districts are struggling to pay for them. Not all of the funds spent by the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of kids with disabilities goes to public schools, however. Millions of dollars support the roughly 80 private day schools that specialize in educating children with specific disabilities from autism to dyslexia.

Not surprisingly, when state resources are finite, not everyone agrees on who should get what. Some say that many children with disabilities could be schooled effectively but at less expense in public school settings than in highly resource-intensive private schools. Private school advocates counter that their higher staff ratios and specialized training, though more expensive, provide better outcomes. But nobody knows for sure because the private schools don’t collect data in a way that would inform the debate. Continue reading

Hate Crime Hysteria

Source: Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia” reports.

“Hate is turning deadly with frightening frequency in America,” wrote Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring in an anguished Washington Post op-ed last month. In building his case, he cited the 11 Jews slain recently in Pittsburgh; the killing of two African-Americans in Louisville, and Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. No litany of hate crimes would be complete without mentioning the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year that resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer.

“It is well past time for us to acknowledge the real, growing and deadly threat posed by hate and white supremacist violence,” Herring wrote. “In Virginia and around the country, we have seen far too many alarming reminders that we cannot dismiss this growing wave of hate as a harmless fringe element. … The threat is real, and the consequences can be deadly.” Continue reading

Does Virginia Do Income-Verification for Medicaid Recipients?

Just to be clear, cracking down on Medicaid fraud is not a “dog whistle” for targeting African-American welfare queens. Many if not most perpetrators of illegal schemes to collect public benefits are white, as illustrated by this cast of characters indicted last year in Lakewood, N.J. for illegally collecting Medicaid and other welfare benefits.

Last month a Louisiana state audit of 100 randomly selected Medicaid beneficiaries found that 82 did not qualify for the benefits they received. Most under-reported their income, some shamefully. Two recipients were getting Medicaid despite having incomes above $300,000.

Now, Louisiana is Louisiana, not exactly known for squeaky clean governance. But there is accumulating evidence that other states have similar problems. According to the Washington Times, a federal inspector general’s report this year found 38 out of a sample of 150 Medicaid beneficiaries in California were potentially ineligible. Continue reading

Is Autism Increasing, or Is the Diagnosis of Autism Increasing?

This chart reflects the number of children taking the SOL Reading tests. It may omit a few children who did not take the test.

The number of children with autism in Virginia public schools surged roughly 270% between the 2005-06 school year and the 2016-17 school year, far outpacing the modest increase in children with disabilities, according to data in the Virginia Department of Education SOL “Build-a-Table” database.

Most other major classifications of disabilities declined over the same period, raising the possibility that the dramatic increase in the number of children with autism reflects not an underlying increase in children with the disability but a reclassification of children already known to have learning and emotional problems. Continue reading

JLARC: Discount Incentive Benefits By 90%

Click for larger view. Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Virginia’s legislative audit agency started its most recent analysis of Virginia’s economic development incentive grant programs with an assumption boosters would quickly dispute – that 90 percent of the economic activity they produce would have happened anyway.

With that assumption baked into the data, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found very small benefits for the various grants or tax incentives Virginia offers employers for new business locations or expansions.  This year’s summary looked at $1.8 billion spent on grants or foregone through tax exemptions over eight years.

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NoVa Pushes Back on D.C. Fare Decriminalization

When last we visited the matter of turn-stile jumping and other ways of cheating the Washington Metro mass transit system, Washington City Council had voted to decriminalize the nonpayment of fares. It wasn’t hard to predict that Virginians would not look kindly upon the decision.

Now comes the inevitable reaction.

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State Basic Aid for Schools Still Below Recession Level

Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

Virginia spent about $6 billion in FY 2018 to fund the state’s constitutionally mandated K-12 standards of quality (SOQ), representing an increase in both total spending and spending per student every year since 2011, according to data published by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). However, while the state now spends more money on support for K-12 education than before the 2007 recession, adjusted for inflation, spending per student was $649 less on average.

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Virginia’s Disconnected Youth

Source: StatChat Blog.

Virginia’s overall unemployment rate has been declining steadily for years, reaching 3.2% in June 2018. But youth unemployment remains disconcertingly high. Indeed roughly 10% of the state’s 16- to 24-year-olds are “disconnected” from the labor force, neither working nor pursuing an education, reports Shonel Sen, a researcher with the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia.

Living up to stereotype, almost 60% of disconnected youth still live with parents. A majority of the economic dropouts are white, although a significant minority are black, Sen writes in the StatChat blog. While one out of five is a high-school dropout, half have high school degrees or GEDs, one out of five has some college, and 7% have B.A. degrees or higher. Continue reading

Governor Hints At Local Business Tax Reform

On Friday, after skirting the topic in a major address to a business conference in Williamsburg, Governor Ralph Northam told a reporter that “he’s planning to ask the General Assembly to tackle business tax reform,” adding it would be “comprehensive.”

The reporter asked about it because of other comments made by Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne and the President of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Stephen Moret.  Since his arrival in Virginia, Moret has from time to time mentioned local business taxes as a hindrance to economic recruitment and business start-ups. He did that again Friday in his own presentation to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

For more than a decade local business taxes, especially two of them, have been the focus of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, among others.  The taxes are generally despised by the business community, but local governments are highly attached to them, because they are a revenue source other than residential real estate taxes.

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UVa Doubles Down on Its Obsession with Race

Flaming assholes. Torch-wielding white supremacists marching at UVa last year — a useful distraction from what really ails American society.

This news is almost a month old, but I hadn’t seen anyone else pick it up, so here goes… The University of Virginia will create 20 new research professorships in “Democracy and Equity” to examine “underlying causes” of the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville last year.

Each of the 20 professorships will be funded by $1 million in donor commitments matched one-for-one by UVA’s Strategic Investment Fund. The Board of Visitors approved the group’s recommendation to set aside $20 million in matching funds to support faculty research and teaching around “related social, cultural and political issues.” Continue reading

Virginia’s Most Effective Legislator: Emmett Hanger

Virginia’s most effective legislator: It helps to belong to the party in power.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, was the nation’s 10th most productive legislator serving in a state senate in 2018, according to FiscalNote, a consulting firm that uses real-time policy data to provide issues-management solutions.

A long-time veteran of the General Assembly, Hanger sponsored 444 bills during the multi-year time frame covered in FiscalNote’s analysis, 57% of which were passed. His top policy issues were agriculture, technology, and government administration. FiscalNote described the senior Republican lawmaker as an ideological “moderate.” 

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Autism and the Twitter Outrage Mob

My tenure as an editorial and op-ed writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch may have been brief but I learned a lot. My first unsigned editorial ignited the wrath of protective mama bears who have children with autism. I got my first up-close look at the awesome power of a Twitter Outrage Mob. It was quite a spectacle.

As I’ve had a chance to reflect upon what I wrote, I feel partially penitent. Living with a child with autism isn’t easy. Parents often rearrange their lives, moving to locales with better school resources, dropping out of the workforce to provide at-home care, living with the fear that their children might never become independent, functioning adults. Autism can become an all-consuming issue. Had I known, I would have expressed more sympathy. But I wouldn’t have changed the thrust of the editorial.

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IRP Rejection Part of a Pattern of Trouble

The State Corporation Commission’s decision Friday to reject the Dominion Energy Virginia integrated resource plan is just the latest sign the energy package sold by the utility to a compliant General Assembly in early 2018 still has an uncertain future.

Two headline elements of the legislation – the promised massive renewable projects and a rebuild of the grid — are in limbo as the 2019 General Assembly looms.  Another headline element, the ability of the utility to use excess profits it is holding to pay for both and thus eliminate risk of rate cuts or refunds, won’t even be tested in front of the SCC until at the earliest 2021, when the utility might (might) undergo its next rate review. Continue reading

Social Promotions: As High as 40% in Some School Districts?

Virginia school systems keep track of many numbers: enrollment, demographics, graduation rates, student-to-teacher ratios, SOL scores, all manner of fiscal expenditures… The list is endless. Just check out the Virginia Department of Education website’s “Statistics and Reports” page. But you can’t find any numbers on the rate of social promotions. Needless to say, the practice of promoting children from one grade to the next even when they have failed to master the subject matter is not one that educators want to highlight. Continue reading

(Fiscal) Winter Is Coming

Congressional Budget Office projections of federal government annual budget deficits.

Let me set the scene by reviewing a few numbers. The federal deficit is on course to hit $1 trillion annually by Fiscal Year 2020. With retiring Baby Boomers swelling Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security expenditures, deficits will increase inexorably for decades. The U.S. national debt stands at $21.7 trillion. As deficits pile up and interest rates rise, the national debt expressed as a percentage of the GDP, 78% today, will reach 96% by 2028. CBO projects that interest payments on that debt will increase from $263 billion in 2017 to $915 billion by 2028, putting increasing deficits on autopilot that no amount of budget cutting can offset.

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