In the last post I pledged to explore, and hopefully to explain, the social epidemic of broken kids. For all our rising incomes and for all our advances in health care, the number of children suffering from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as the number diagnosed with autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other cognitive and emotional disorders appears to be on the rise. The problem cannot be attributed to one single cause. It is multi-factorial and complex.
I’m certainly no expert, just a journalist trying to understand what’s happening. One place to start is to look at numbers generated by the Virginia Department of Education and made accessible through its searchable Build-a-Table database of Standards of Learning test takers. VDOE tracks the number of kids designated disadvantaged (eligible for free school lunch programs), disabled (falling within one of 10 sub-classifications), and homeless. All are associated with higher failure rates in SOL tests, and all are associated with behavioral problems that disrupt classes for other children.
Claiborne Mason, president of the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, talks to students at the John G. Wood School.
In the 15 years Brendan Folmar has worked at the John G. Wood School, a private day school for emotionally handicapped children, he has witnessed a disturbing change in the kind of children admitted to the school.
When he first joined the Wood School staff, many of students were comparable to students today who are mainstreamed in Virginia public schools. Today the condition of students at Wood, says Folmar, the school principal, is more acute and more challenging to treat than ever. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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: 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.”
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.
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
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.
Modest UVa tuition increase. The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors has approved a 2.9% increase in-state tuition increase for undergraduate College of Arts & Sciences students next academic year, although other schools in the university may differ. The university’s financial aid program, Access UVa, will keep pace with tuition increases, reports the Daily Progress.
The board’s Finance Committee said it had exhausted other options before considering slight increases to undergraduate tuition but believed 2.9- to 3.5-percent increases in most schools are necessary. The increases represent only a modest premium over the 2.3% increase in the Consumer Price Index between September 2017 and September 2018. The modest price hikes (modest by comparison to past years) coincides with a $2.2 million increase in state support in Fiscal 2020.