Bacon Bits: Keeping the Political Class on its Toes

Cranky strikes again. John Butcher does another deep dive into Richmond Public School statistics, comparing the capital city’s school system with the schools in peer cities of Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News. Richmond spends $2,887 more per student than the state average, and it spends $1,659 more on instructional expenses. Yet somehow, the district supports fewer instructional positions per 100 students and pays teachers and principals less. And, as Butcher has amply demonstrated before, disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students in Richmond under-perform their disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged peers in other urban-core localities by wide margins.

How about the indignity of attending lousy schools? But never fear, Richmond school administrators are au current with the latest in politically correct virtue signaling. As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond schools started requiring graduating students to wear gender-neutral gaps and gowns this year, ending a decades-long practice of having separate colors for men and women. Explained Superintendent Jason Kamras: “We want to make sure out transgender and nonbinary students don’t have to suffer the indignity of being forced to express their gender in a manner contrary to their identity.”

Big subsidies for big data. Virginia is home to 159 data centers that benefited from $417.5 million in sales-and-use tax exemptions from mid-2010 through mid-2017, according to estimates from a new Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report. JLARC deems the state subsidies to have been “relatively effective” and generate “moderate economic benefits.” It is reasonable for the state to continue the exemption, concluded JLARC. However, the tax break does not appear to have stimulated growth in distressed areas.

Conversely, the report found, two tax credits — the Green Job Creation Tax Credit and the Biodiesel and Green diesel Fuels Producers Tax Credit — have low rates of utilization and little effect on the activity they were designed to encourage.

Milk Medicaid for Mental Health. The commonwealth allocated $356 million in discretionary funding to some 40 community service boards in Virginia that constitute the state’s public safety net provider for mental health and substance abuse. (Total CSB funding was $1.28 billion in FY 2018.) The CSBs could do a better job of maximizing Medicaid revenue (a larger share of which is funded by the federal government), according to a new JLARC study.

More Washington Metro fun and games. Washington Metro board Chairman Jack Evans engaged in multiple violations of the board’s ethics code, according to a law firm retained to investigate Evans. The chairman failed to disclose his $50,000 a year in a consulting contract with Colonial Parking even as he was “waging a campaign” against another company, Laz Parking, by repeatedly initiating investigations by Metro’s inspector general. Reports the Washington Post: Evans has announced he would not seek the chairmanship again after his term expires June 30.

But some good news for Metro, for once… Moody’s, the bond-rating agency, has upgraded the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bonds by two notches from A2 to Aa3. An aa3 rating is considered “a high-quality rating subject to very low credit risk.” Moody’s cited the continued commitments from Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., to support the transit enterprise. Subsidies now cover more than half of WMATA’s operating costs.

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5 responses to “Bacon Bits: Keeping the Political Class on its Toes

  1. “Cranky strikes again. John Butcher does another deep dive into Richmond Public School statistics, comparing the capital city’s school system with the schools in peer cities of Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News.”

    Offhand, looking through Cranky’s latest numbers, the Richmond Public School system appears to bear a startling resemblance to the typical American university, whether it be public or private, insofar as costs spent per student versus effectiveness in learning per student, namely the higher the cost per student, and lesser the learning per student, and the more harm is done per student.

    All this Crankt analysis does not even include harm that is done to communities hosting these institutions despite the heroic efforts of UVA’s new president and his team to the contrary.

  2. Love the Cranky updates!

  3. Seems like a much simpler way to go about the basic premise is to show how many administrators there are … or number of students per administrator and I’d like to see other schools beyond the named. Arlington, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Fairfax.

    I don’t think comparing capital outlays means much because it’s a snapshot in time where some schools are in periods of upgrading/rebuilding and others not.

    The cost per student is important and especially so if there are less instructors … are we counting “specialists” as instructors or do they count as administrators.

    Somehow, I don’t think Cranky is really interested in a fuller picture – just the dirt.

    I’m not defending Richmond nor the status quo – Richmond probably has some problems but I have to be more convinced that we’re not cherry-picking things to deliver worst-case perspectives.

  4. The biggest irony here is that Cranky’s “dirt” would be nowhere if it were not for the VDOE mandating that schools provide data and VDOE, in turn, provide that data so it can be sliced and diced by the critics.

    Imagine how much dirt Cranky could generate if no data was collected or it was but not provided?

    Imagine – if we decided Charter Schools or private schools would take these students – do we think they’d provide the data voluntarily?

    Once again – I’ll remind – I have zero problems with charter and other non-public schools to compete including giving them tax money – as long as two things are true:

    1. – they have to take every student that public schools have to take
    2. – they have to provide the same level of transparency on academic and other data so that actual real apples to apples comparisons are possible.

    And if the choice/non-public schools WIN – I support it.

    I just want a fair and objective process where we actually do hold ALL the different variants equally accountable for their performance.

    And I just abhor the idea that we hammer the public schools with their own data while at the same time having folks claim that non-public schools would do “better”.

  5. This is not “dirt”. It is using data to look at effectiveness. And he is not comparing public schools with private schools. He is comparing Richmond to its peer public schools–both geographically (Henrico, etc.) and demographically (Norfolk, etc.). It is striking that Richmond spends more for instruction, but has lower teacher salaries and fewer instructional positions per student. To fix a problem, you need to identify what is being done wrong. Once that is identified, then one can spend money wisely to remediate the problem. Statistical analysis may not be able to solve the problem, but it can go a long way to identifying the problem.

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