Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Dominion EV School Bus Crash #3 Ends Session

Photo Credit: The Washington Post

by Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia’s effort to force its ratepayers to finance a fleet of electric school buses has finally crashed, defeated by the House of Delegates for a third time in the final roll call of the 2021 General Assembly Saturday night.

The 41-49 rejection by the House at about 11 p.m. followed an earlier 46-46 rejection just before 9 p.m. In both cases the House was rejecting near-identical conference reports on Senate Bill 1380, first killed and revived about ten days ago.

In all three cases, the utility had no problem getting exactly what it wanted from its compliant friends in the Virginia Senate, which backed these newest versions of the bill Saturday by 25-12 and 27-12.

Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, got the final word on the House floor before the final vote. “I think we have a really excellent opportunity to say we need regulatory reform in Virginia,” Helmer told his colleagues in urging rejection of the proposal. That linked this bill’s defeat to the earlier rejection – by those same utility-compliant senators – of a series of reform bills seeking to rebuild State Corporation Commission (SCC) authority over rates.  Continue reading

Equity in Virginia School Funding

by Matt Hurt

Virginia Public School Region VII has demonstrated that large per-student budgets are not a prerequisite to ensure success on Virginia’s Standards of Learning assessments. High pass rates indicate that the schools and divisions in the Southwest are meeting the needs of their students for basic skill attainment. However, to achieve Virginia’s 5 C’s — Critical Thinking Skills, Collaboration Skills, Communication Skills, Creative Thinking Skills, and Citizenship Skills — students need access to more educational opportunities than the current state funding formula provides. Affluent localities have provided these opportunities for their students, whereas others have not found the means.

School funding is very complicated as there are so many variables at play. Public school budgets can be broken into four funding sources — federal, state, state sales tax, and local dollars. There are differing criteria for each, which impact the overall budget for a given school division. The degree to which school division budgets vary by funding source can be seen in the table below, drawn from the 2019 Superintendent’s Annual Report. Also included is the range of per pupil funding that year.

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Five Dem Senators Defy Party Orthodoxy on Governors Schools

Sen. Chap Petersen speaking on senate floor last year. Credit: Virginia Mercury

by James A. Bacon

A Senate committee voted Thursday to spike a bill aimed at “expanding diversity” in Virginia’s governor’s schools, reports The Virginia Mercury. While it is encouraging to know that admittance into the governor’s schools will continue to be based on merit-based tests, the vote has a broader significance, which is even more heartening. It hints that a significant number of Democratic Party legislators are not entirely on board with Governor Ralph Northam’s policy of implementing policies informed by critical race theory throughout Virginia schools.

The stumbling point for several Democratic legislators is that they have many Asian-American constituents. Asian-Americans are disproportionately admitted into Virginia’s elite public high schools, most notably into Northern Virginia’s nationally recognized Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology where they comprise 73% of the incoming freshmen. Asian-Americans have the most to lose from Northam’s definition of “diversity,” which requires admitting more African-Americans and Hispanics and fewer Asians. Whites would be far less affected by the changes. Continue reading

The Democratic Coalition’s Conflicts of Interest Cause Much Political Scrambling

by James C. Sherlock

It is tough to be a Democratic politician in Richmond or Washington. Now that they govern, they find it one big game of coalition whack-a-mole.

I have written today of the conflicts between the interests of teachers unions and those of parents playing out in the Virginia General Assembly. That vital Democratic suburban women demo is in play.

That is the tip of the iceberg for Democrats. They have assembled a coalition whose interests are fundamentally opposed. Those fissures are only fully exposed when they have unfettered governance, which they have now both in Richmond and Washington.

The only things they seem to agree on are big government, free money and government regulation and control of nearly everything except their own interests.

After that, it gets dicey. Continue reading

Mandate Teacher Vaccinations in Virginia

Louise Lucas, Chair, Senate Education and Health Committee photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote this morning about Virginia SENATE BILL NO. 1303 (Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute) Local school divisions; availability of virtual and in-person learning to all students.

The lengthy Democratic substitute to a one-sentence Republican bill was written over the weekend to provide political cover to the Democrats. Unfortunately, it did much more than that, all of it bad.

One provision states:

“Prior to the start of the 2021–2022 school year, all teachers and school staff shall be offered access to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccination through their relevant local health district.”

“Offered access.” I was asked by a reader whether I would recommend mandating teacher vaccinations.

My answer is yes. Continue reading

Union-Written Bill Fundamentally Redefines Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Becky Pringle, NEA President

Democrats are attempting to rush through a bill to provide political cover from a backlash by parents against the continuing closure of Virginia schools.

Never ones to let a crisis go to waste, they have put union-written provisions in the bill that will permanently change the nature of the public schools for the worse.

So let’s look at Virginia SENATE BILL NO. 1303 AMENDMENT IN THE NATURE OF A SUBSTITUTE Local school divisions; availability of virtual and in-person learning to all students

There are four provisions in the bill that will change Virginia public schools, some forever. Continue reading

Fix Was In for VMI Contract, Lawsuit Alleges

by James A. Bacon

In awarding a contract to investigate racism at the Virginia Military Institute, the Northam administration stacked the deck in favor of preferred vendor, Barnes & Thornburg, and stymied efforts by a competing bidder, the Center for Applied Innovation (CAI), to contest the award, alleges a suit filed by CAI in Richmond Circuit Court today.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), which managed the $1 million Request for Proposal, engaged in a “run the clock down” strategy of delay and hinderance to prevent CAI’s principal, Robert C. Morris Jr., from examining more than 1,000 pages of procurement documents within the 10-day period allowed under state law to file a protest, the lawsuit contends.

Further, the lawsuit charges, SCHEV was acting at the behest of the Attorney General’s office and senior Northam administration officials to avoid “media attention” to the procurement process. Continue reading

SW Va Schools Seize Initiative Again, Create Regional Online Academy

by James A. Bacon

While Virginia’s public school bureaucracy fixates on racial justice issues and dithers over how to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, ten school districts in Southwest Virginia are taking matters into their own hands by creating a regional virtual academy.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the ten districts, the regional academy will hire its own teachers and create its own curriculum. The group is discussing whether to contract with a private company, Herndon-based Stride Inc., or another entity expected to submit an offer this week.

Online classes would be offered at no charge to families with state funds allocated to school districts on a per-person basis, reports the Bristol Herald-Courier. The level of state funding is determined by a formula that calculates a locality’s ability to pay. The City of Bristol receives about $7,000 annually per student/ The virtual academy is expected to cost $3,500 per pupil. School districts would keep the balance. Continue reading

Richmond Schools Chief Proposes Year-Round School

by James C. Sherlock

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras has proposed that city schools operate year-round next year to help students impacted by learning losses caused by disruptive COVID-related schooling changes.

Unless something changes, Richmond public schools will remain closed to in-person instruction for the rest of the current school year.

From an excellent piece written by Alan Rodriguez for NPR  

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras is proposing that city schools operate year-round next year to help students impacted by virtual learning and the pandemic.

Kamras’s vision is for the 2021-2022 school year to begin in person in August, and end in late June. It would include four two-week breaks, or “intersessions,” every nine weeks. About 5,000 “high-need students” would receive additional instruction during these intersessions, adding up to 40 extra school days.

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Holding Richmond Public Schools Accountable — Part I

by James C. Sherlock

We have discussed here the failures of the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in educating its economically disadvantaged children, as well as the abysmal performance of Black children in its schools.  

I intend to help readers understand how it manages to fail repeatedly even with major federal funding as guardrails and state oversight officially in place.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) such as RPS and its schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet state academic standards.

It is useful to drill down into the details of that program so that readers can understand how every school district in Virginia is supposed to plan and execute the education of poor kids to improve their chances of success.

The question that will remain when I finish will be accountability.  

How does a system like the Richmond Public Schools continue to submit similar paperwork every year and every year fail to meet its stated goals? Where is the accountability? Why do the people of Richmond put up with it?  Continue reading

Basic Child Literacy Cannot Be too Much to Ask of Richmond City Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Half of Black 4th graders in Richmond public schools couldn’t read in 2019. That is not OK.

It is way past time to demand both better performance and accountability. Clearly neither the city of Richmond nor the Commonwealth has done that effectively.

So I have filed formal complaints with the federal government to see if the Departments that provide federal money to the Richmond City Public School District can establish accountability for how all of that money has been spent.

Jason Kamras currently serves as the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). He has first-rate credentials — National Teacher of the Year in 2005, undergraduate Princeton, masters in education from Harvard. Worked in leadership positions in D.C. Public Schools before coming to Richmond.

He is the highest-paid superintendent in Richmond history at $250,000 annually. His initial three-year contract was slated to expire this summer.  He just received a 4-year extension on a split 6-3 vote by the Richmond School Board.

The performance of Mr. Kamras’ Richmond School District is cataclysmically bad.   Continue reading

Counting Teacher Licenses: An Exegesis on Bureaucracy

by John Butcher

An earlier post discussed the remarkably large number of unlicensed teachers in Richmond City public schools, as reported in the 2018 USDoE Civil Rights Data Collection.

An email from the Richmond public schools chief of staff responded that only four of about 2,100 Richmond teachers now are unlicensed, unless you also count 38 whose paperwork is hanging at VDOE because of COVID-related backups.

If true, that would show an astounding improvement in just three years. Unfortunately, it was not true, at least in the sense of the federal data. Continue reading

Federal COVID Funding to Virginia K-12 Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The federal government allocated a great deal of money in each of two different pieces of legislation in 2020 to provide COVID-related relief to K-12 schools.

I will endeavor here to explain briefly what that means to Virginia.

The two pieces of 2020 federal legislation that provide funding to K-12 schools were:

  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on March 27, 2020; and
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) signed into law on December 27, 2020

Two of the major program elements under each of those two bills are :

  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER and ESSER II) funding – Virginia’s allocation is $1.2 billion dollars, 90% of which is to be sub-allocated by formula to school districts.
  • Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEERS and GEERS II) funding – $132 million to be allocated to the neediest public schools and non-public schools at the Governor’s discretion.  Money for the Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) program is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.  Virginia’s EANS allocation was $46,618,019. For comparison, total Virginia K-12 school spending from all sources was estimated by the NEA at $17.8 billion in 2018-19.

By way of comparison, the federal government sent $1 billion to Virginia for K-12 schools in 2019, including big money from the Department of Agriculture for the National School Lunch program ($247 million) and other non-educational programs, so the 2020 COVID supplementals already exceed the original annual federal appropriations for Virginia. Continue reading

Teaching in the Time of COVID

by Matt Hurt

Since March 13 when Virginia schools were initially closed due to COVID-19, I have  participated in discussions with hundreds (maybe thousands) of public school teachers and administrators from across Virginia. Most conversations centered on the educational difficulties imposed by the pandemic. A common thread through those conversation was the frustration that schools were not meeting the needs of at-risk students. Educators felt like they were between a rock and a hard place.

Most of these educators work in school divisions that offer some degree of in-person instruction to every student, and have done so through most of this school year. These folks are concerned that educational outcomes, even for students who opted for in-person instruction, will not be consistent with the progress expected prior to the pandemic.

Few divisions offered in-person instruction for students five days a week. Some offered four days per week, and many offered two days per week (one group coming two days a week, and another group coming another two days a week to accommodate spacing needs for social distancing). In almost all divisions, the school day was slightly shortened. In most instances teachers had significantly less time with their students than in previous years.  Continue reading

Explaining Richmond’s Crazy Dropout Rates

by James A. Bacon

It is widely acknowledged by scholars on the Left and Right that there is a strong correlation between a high school student’s socioeconomic status and his or her propensity for dropping out. The generalization makes intuitive sense, and there is ample data to back it up. Across Virginia, 7% of economically disadvantaged (ED) students fly the coop before they graduate. Only 4% of their not-disadvantaged peers (NED) do.

But the Richmond City public school system is an anomaly, as John Butcher, publisher of Cranky’s Blog, has found in his relentless probing of school-system statistics.

Thirteen percent of Richmond’s disadvantaged students quit the school system before graduating. That’s a miserable performance; the dropout rate is about 1.8 times that for all disadvantaged students across the state. But get a load of this: 36% of students who are Not Disadvantaged depart before they graduate. That’s a mind-blowing nine times higher than the state average for that group, and nearly three times the rate for ED students.  Continue reading