Bacon Bits: Many Grand Schemes but No Numbers on Cost

VCU’s new master plan.

You can tell when you’ve entered most universities because you must pass through impressive-looking gates. You don’t know when you’ve entered Virginia Commonwealth University because the urban university bleeds into the surrounding community. The university’s new ONE VCU master plan will address that by creating two create two “Front Door” projects identifying entrances to the campus, reports Virginia Business. The land use/facilities planning document also calls for improving pedestrian safety — there were 47 pedestrian accidents in 2018-19 — addressing the parking shortage at the medical campus, and providing more bike lanes, among other initiatives. No numbers on cost.

Carbon Neutrality by 2050. Governor Ralph Northam set a goal earlier this month of a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050. Arlington County has gone one better: total carbon neutrality within three decades. The plan approved Saturday envisions a locality where “all electricity will come from renewable sources, where more residents will drive electric vehicles and more will use transit, and where homes and buildings will be more energy efficient,” reports ARL Now. While some hailed the plan, others said it wasn’t ambitious enough and relies too much on technology-based solutions. No numbers on cost.

Mo’ money for schools! Adjusted for inflation, state funding for K-12 education per student is still down 8% from pre-recession levels, finds the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (CI) in a new report. That sounds terrible — no wonder our schools are having so much trouble! — but the report doesn’t tell us the full picture of what student funding looks like when accounting for federal support and local spending. Is per student spending up, down, the same? CI doesn’t say. However, the report does contain some useful information on inputs — changes in the number of teachers, instructors, support staff, and teacher aides. The assumption is that more spending and more staff = better outcomes. Does it? No numbers on that.


Update: I have re-written the original post on “Mo’ money for schools” to reflect the fact that CI provides more data in its report than I originally acknowledged. Further update: Upon reflection, I regret my knee-jerk reaction to CI’s implicit call for mo’ money. The statistical profiles of each school district contain loads of information — especially on staffing levels — not readily available anywhere else.  Kudos to CI to bringing more transparency to school funding and staffing. I fully intend to draw upon this data in future posts.

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17 responses to “Bacon Bits: Many Grand Schemes but No Numbers on Cost”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I would encourage people to go to the individual locality reports on the Commonwealth Institute data for some of those answers. I give them a hats off, because this is an impressive presentation of the data. Jim is right that there is poor evidence to support the theory that more money alone improves outcomes, but this will become a major exhibit for a major push for more money – either from the General Assembly or through a lawsuit challenging the state’s distribution formula.

    1. Steve, you’re right, CI does answer some of my questions on an individual school district basis. Most useful are the numbers regarding staffing. I’ll edit my post above to reflect that.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    As someone who has advocated for more wind/solar – I do not see how we can run 24/7 on it without some serious technology advances for storage – not only the ability to store what we’ll need when we have renewable shortfalls – but cost-effective. wind/solar/storage cannot cost more carte blanche than gas and still gain majority support from voters and electricity consumers.

    on the “mo money”, I actually agree with Jim B – at the 10,000 foot level but unlike his approach to SOL/SAT scores at the 10,000 foot level, he wants to see a further breakdown on the money – and I do to – ESPECIALLY at the school district and school level.

    It matters a lot how the money is spent and that’s a problem with the lower performing schools -as documented by studies done by the Department of Education.

    ” More Than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don’t Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds, Department of Education Research Finds”

    the way this works is that the schools in better income neighborhoods get money for advanced programs, gifted and talented students ,etc but the schools in lower incomes neighborhoods don’t get that funding but they also do not get funding to get the staff needed for at-risk kids who need more than kids who have higher income, better educated parents.

    We should NOT seek “equal” outcomes – that’s just not practical nor is it fair or right but we SHOULD seek equity in additional funding and resources – for both talented and gifted verses at-risk kids who are behind and this is where schools often differ in funding. Higher income and higher educated parents advocate effectively for their kids but lower income, lesser educated parents do not , sometimes they’re not even present the schools respond to those demanding more.

  3. Arlington is not Virginia, they may have potential to be more energy efficient than the the State.

    For example, New York City has very low CO2 emissions, apparently because if you have a high rise city, that is more energy efficient. Also Washington DC is carbon free, becuase they have no power plants and are purchasing Pennsylvania wind energy. So if we let Arlington separate from Virginia (and why not?) they can buy carbon-free energy wherever they want to. But to suggest this scales up to Virginia as a whole is where the disconnect is.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      The three Ds of sustainable energy:

      Distribution – power must be generated in a distributed manner from sustainable sources like wind and solar. There must be some localized way of storing the energy without relying on gigantic lakes in the middle of nowhere.

      Density – people must live in high density areas where mass transit is affordable and land / housing prices are too high to allow for a large number of inefficient large dwellings.

      Diet – changing food tastes (potentially through carbon taxes) would make a huge difference. It takes less than 1 KwH to produce a pound of corn but 32KwH to produce a pound of beef. Cheese consumes more energy (per pound produced) than chicken.

      1. That’s the Beyond Burger eco-benefit, but foodies do not like it because it is processed food.

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          Read the label carefully. Frankenmeat for sure 🙂

      2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Without our suddenly eating vast quantities of red meat layered with fats, we’d still be furtive sickly scared little monkey critters scampering about while hiding in the high leafy canopies of Africa.

        Then suddenly everything changed, once those little critters got to the ground, and armed themselves and started hunting in packs, killing meaty 1,000+ pound beasts, then feasting bloodily on those beasts’ power packed innards of concentrated energy locked into their fatty meats. When that happened, fueled with all that meaty fatty power, our brains exploded in size, capacity, awareness, competencies, inventiveness, and prodigious Godlike talents never before seen in the world’s 4.54 billion year history.

        Today, fatty meats are still critically essential in making the world go round. Indeed, it is the progressives’ loss of eating fatty, bloody meats that makes that makes our typical progressive so stupid, regressive, furtive, anxious, and neurotic.

        1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
          Jane Twitmyer

          WOW! Got some data and studies to prove that meat benefit?

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Plenty data, just gotta dig it back up.

  4. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    Re the school issue … There are some very interesting studies out in the past decade showing income levels not only affect school achievement, they also affect actual brain development. One effect that in some studies appears to be a common factor is the increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that is a major component of PTSD.

    Brain study findings show that … The greater the income levels, the more hippocampal (crucial for learning and memory) volume; the higher the educational level, and less volume developed in the amygdala (where stress is processed).

    So … it would appear that we need more than a single ‘fix school’ approach. How about reaching for more equal and optimal brain development outcomes and what would that consist of?

    Regarding the 100% clean energy … for those who have argued that renewables can’t do the job … take a look at the 2 papers put out by the Rocky Mountain Institute on Clean Energy Portfolios. In 2018 RMI introduced their analysis of Clean Energy Portfolios with “The Economic Analysis of Clean Energy Portfolios”.

    CEPs are “optimized combinations of Wind, Solar and Storage and Demand-Side Management.” Each CEP’s is designed with local clean energy resources and includes efficiency as well as demand side management. They are also all designed to meet the same monthly energy that would be supplied by a gas plant, matching or surpassing the gas plant’s expected availability.

    Recent CEP projects prove that these clean technologies can reliably meet grid needs” In 2019 they are cheaper to build than gas fired plants and in 15 years they will be cheaper to build and run than just to run those gas plants.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Have the education experiments controlled for DNA or heredity, if one prefers?

      1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
        Jane Twitmyer

        Don’t know if they know enough about the genetic links to brain development but some
        Researchers, described in a Scientific American article “excluded children who had other factors known to negatively affect brain development, such as a family history of psychiatric diagnosis or a risky pregnancy. The results were clear—the effects of low socioeconomic status are apparent even in kids who grew up otherwise healthy.”

        “A recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that in 2013, 51 percent of students in U.S. public schools were from low-income families. Children who grow up in low-income families are exposed to more environmental stressors, such as less access to healthy food, unsafe neighborhoods and stressed parents. Different brain development effects continued to be there in kids followed to age 22.

        Pinpointing the specific causes will be difficult but in future studies. Pollak and his group hope to identify how different social programs, such as free lunch programs or housing vouchers, can help children who grow up poor. “I used to think about poverty as a question of social policy. Now I think of it as a biomedical problem, an environmental condition or toxin that’s affecting children,” Pollak says.

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    This is fascinating, Jane. This is why I really like this blog–different viewpoints and references to sources and information that I did not know about. Can you provide a link to the Scientific American article?

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    For most of humanity our ancestors barely eked out an existence. Unless one was nobility, everyone lived in abject poverty. How did humanity get beyond mass poverty in the last 6 or 7 generations? Logic says virtually everyone of our ancestors must have had the same brain development problems for many generations.

    Moreover, the scale of poverty today is nothing like that faced by our ancestors. I didn’t see this addressed or even mentioned in the article. We are talking huts with dirt floors, uneven food sources, rampant disease. Call me interested but skeptical. Thanks much for the link, Jane.

  7. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    So the human brain, especially the young brain, is like anything else. It gets stronger and healthier as it gets used. Being poor can mean a lot less time for intellectual stimulation, reading, visiting the kid’s science museum, camping with mom and dad, attending a strong academic day care program, and perhaps too much time staring at the idiot box or other screens. Some working single parents do great, but it is harder, no question. And I’ve written before about those adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) which are not 100 percent correlated with poverty, but they certainly can be — experiencing or witnessing violence, drug abuse, neglect, a parent being incarcerated, etc. Fear is the mind killer, as Frank Herbert taught us more than 50 years ago…..(you can substitute stress for fear, but they are related.)

    Yes, it sucks to be poor. But many do overcome it. And merely giving bad and neglectful parents more money won’t necessarily solve the problem for their children. As a junior USAF officer in reality my father had a fairly low income, but for many years he received that income in places like Europe, North Africa, Turkey, and my brother and I got a wonderful opportunity to see some of the world (and went years, years without seeing any television – without doubt a great benefit to us.)

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