Category Archives: Government Oversight

Biden Ups Vax Plan. Will Northam Be Ready?

Image by torstensimon from Pixabay

by DJ Rippert

Joltin’ Joe. President Joe Biden increased his planned administration of the Coronavirus vaccine from 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office to 150 million doses. Given that the United States is already distributing around one million doses per day Biden almost had to increase his plan if he wanted to make good on his campaign promise of an aggressive rollout of the vaccine. Biden added to his new plans by claiming that anybody who wants a Coronavirus vaccine will be able to get vaccinated by “spring.” Yet even Biden’s newly found optimism about the pace of vaccine distribution was insufficient for some people. An Op-Ed in the New York Times urged the president to strive for 200 million doses in his first 100 days.

Unfortunately, the planned acceleration at the Federal level will be of little use in Virginia unless the Commonwealth finds a way to accelerate its administration of the vaccines received. As of yesterday, Virginia was dead last in administration of the vaccines it has already received. Number fifty out of fifty states. Or, number 52 out of 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. This miserable performance obviously renders any acceleration by the Feds moot in Virginia. If we can’t administer more than 42.22% of the vaccines we received at a one million doses per day at the national level, what good will it do for the Feds to go to one-and-a-half million doses per day or even two million doses per day? The case could easily and logically be made that the accelerated distribution of vaccine doses by the Feds should be limited to states that have shown the competence to distribute the doses they have already received. That would clearly exclude Virginia. Continue reading

Fix the Structurally Broken Virginia Government

by James C. Sherlock

Great Seal of Virginia

When offered a choice of reasons for failures of large scale government actions, your first choice should always be incompetence, not bad intentions.

Big government requires competent legislatures, competent management and  control of executive departments, apolitical oversight by attorneys general and objective studies of its failures if it has any hope of being efficient and effective.

Absolutely no one after seeing the Virginia government reaction to COVID would accuse it of any of that. We need to fix it.

Unintended consequences of legislation

Readers just had an extended discussion over my column on the unintended consequences of minimum wage hikes.

It should be not too much to ask that Virginia politicians demand a full study of the effects of legislation, including minimum wage legislation, that is guaranteed to have far-reaching effects on the state. But they do not do it in the case of minimum wage hikes.

A structural problem in the General Assembly Continue reading

COVID Has Exposed Massive Failures in Governance

by James C. Sherlock

In a comment to my previous post, we saw a statement “most parents are happy with the education their kids are getting.”   That is no longer true. Polls say overwhelmingly it is not.

On a personal note, my two grandsons in Albemarle County schools, twin seniors, haven’t set foot in their high school this year. Albemarle County has during this same time period declared itself the state’s first antiracist school district. Excellent timing. Shows where the superintendent’s head was. The school board rubber stamped that policy. No one noted that black students were and are unable to go to school.

COVID has exposed a fatal lack of government imagination, planning and execution in good times. It simply did not do the blocking and tackling.

Remember my story about the decades-long lack of hospital and nursing home inspectors? Remember the nursing home deaths that resulted?

Remember the University of Virginia Board of Visitors more than a decade ago fired the president of that school in part because she would not invest enough in distance learning? Remember that the board itself was then threatened with firing by the Governor and she returned triumphant? Now remember what happened when that school and others had to switch to remote learning under COVID? Continue reading

School Superintendents Are Accountable for Special Ed Compliance

by James C. Sherlock – Updated 23 Dec. with division-by-subject table of bad SOL results for students with disabilities.

Old School House Photo by Steve McKinzie

I just finished reading the December 14 JLARC Report. “K–12 Special Education in Virginia 2020.”

The report is highly critical of public school special education in Virginia, but it misses the mark on its findings as well as its recommendations.  

The major problem with the findings is that the report does not specify which school districts do a good job in special education and which districts do a poor job.  

The major problem with the recommendations is that the bulk of them recommend new regulations by the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) and additional oversight by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The current regulations, especially federal regulations that come with the federal money for special education, are quite specific. And not uniformly followed.

As big a critic as I have been of VBOE and VDOE — they need to do better — but the biggest culprits are the superintendents of Virginia’s school districts. Those men and women are highly educated and experienced in the requirements of their jobs and highly paid to execute them.  Continue reading

What Do We Do “For the Children” Now?

by James C. Sherlock

Flickr: Don Harder

I just read Jim Bacon’s column. In it he revealed:

“Most Virginians (64%) said they were somewhat or very satisfied with how school officials have handled instruction this fall. Only 22% were dissatisfied.

At the same time, an even larger majority is worried that their children will fall behind:

53% very concerned
22% somewhat concerned
8% not too concerned
16% not at all concerned

Really? Wanna bet?

That will last until the Spring 2020 SOLs currently required by the federal government. The SOLs themselves will be a dumpster fire. Parents will look for the arsonist, and they won’t look in the mirror to find him.

Now the cynic/realist in me says that in the first two weeks of the Biden administration the federal law requirement for progress testing will be cancelled for Spring 2021 just like it was for Spring 2020.  The teachers unions and Democratic Governors will insist.

But the SOLs do not fix a problem, they just measure it. Continue reading

Chronic Absenteeism and SOL Failures in Virginia Schools

by James C. Sherlock

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

Sometimes common sense is not so common as we think.

Common sense will tell you that if a kid misses too much school, he or she is not going to keep up with the academics. That apparently has not occurred to the Virginia Board of Education or the Department for which it sets policy.

Chronic absenteeism in Virginia is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year – more than 18 days.

The chronic absenteeism that VDOE reports to the federal government correlates directly with SOL math, reading and writing failure rates for all students, white students, black students, Hispanic students and economically disadvantaged students. Directly. In each subgroup. In every subject.

Yet the Board of Education did not see fit to deliver that information to the Governor or the General Assembly in its 2020 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia. The word absenteeism appeared nowhere in that report in which structural racism, teacher quality and money were featured as causes of minority academic failures.

Continue reading

Omissions and Lies in the Annual Report of the Virginia Board of Education

by James C. Sherlock

This weekend I read the 168-page 2020 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia (the report) published by the Virginia Board of Education appointed by Governor Northam.  

The report is most notable for its omissions and occasional lies.

Poverty. First the good news.  

The Board reported well on one major issue affecting effective learning environments — the poverty of some students and school districts.   

The content of the report on the issues related to poor kids and schools in poor districts was excellent. I strongly support the recommendations for changing the state contribution formula to give more state money to poorer districts. Continue reading

Herring’s Loudoun County Determination Part II – State-Sponsored Extortion

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

Part one of two essays on this subject described a new Virginia law, a new Division in the Attorney Generals office, its function as a kangaroo court and its astonishing and sweeping  “determination” against Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). The law requires LCPS to block Asian American kids from the competitively accessed Loudoun Academies in favor of protected classes.

That is not even the heart of the scandal.

That same determination published the NAACP’s demands to settle the case. I will quote the NAACP demands directly here because a summary cannot do it justice. Remember, these “requests” were published by the Attorney General. Also remember that if the NAACP is unhappy, it can go to court with the AG’s determination in hand.

Please note the demand for a high quality charter school for black students that can eliminate the achievement gap. Perhaps Success Academy can help.

Continue reading

Mark Herring’s Worst Thanksgiving –  Conspiracy Against EVMS may lead to Federal Involvement

by James C. Sherlock

Sentara CEO Howard Kern

Scandals are sometimes overrated. Not this one.

I have reported here before on the strange case of the EVMS-ODU merger. I posted here on Nov 1, Nov 2  and Nov 3 with my own concerns on the subject. Many of my assessments came to fruition.

On November 13 and 20, the Checks and Balances Project picked up the story and took it to the next level. The quotations below are from the November 20 story.

I am not an attorney, but I will project today the significant legal jeopardy into which the process may have put the group that got together to coordinate and plan that merger without EVMS participation. 

Not to mention the legal and personnel mess that it puts on the desk of Virginia’s Attorney General and the Governor. 

Continue reading

Stewart Gets Last-Minute Gift From Trump

Corey Stewart

Peter Galuszka

Corey A. Stewart, a conservative firebrand from Prince William County, is getting a last-minute going-away present from President Donald Trump.

As Trump’s administration comes to an end, Trump has created a position on trade at the U.S. Commerce Department that is just for him. In 2016, Stewart headed Trump’s Virginia election campaign before being fired. Stewart said that he was Trump before Trump was Trump.

Stewart is an international trade lawyer and is expected to strong arm Trump’s tough and confusing trade policies.

A special target is China, which Trump has castigated, with some justification, for cheating on business deals, fiddling with its currency exchange rates, growing its armed forces and trampling on human rights.

Stewart will toughen enforcement of Trump’s hostile trade relations, according to news reports.

Some trade experts wonder what the Stewart story is all about. According to Reuters, William Reinsch, a former Commerce undersecretary, said he viewed hiring as “peculiar” since he is filling a position that does not exist. Continue reading

Citizen Reporting of Misfeasance or Malfeasance of Virginia Government

Virginia Office of the State Inspector General

by James C. Sherlock

I recently published a much commented upon column concerning the governance of Virginia. 

In it I failed to mention the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG). 

The mission of that office is to partner “with other state agencies to serve as a catalyst for positive change by:

  • Facilitating good stewardship of resources.
  • Deterring fraud, waste, abuse and corruption.
  • Advocating and practicing efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Promoting and practicing integrity and ethical conduct.” 

This site often serves as an outlet for citizen complaints about the performance of Virginia’s government.  

It is thus useful for readers to know: 

  1. their rights and obligations in reporting government malfeasance or misfeasance; and 
  2. how and under what circumstances to file a complaint to the Virginia OSIG that is charged with overseeing government performance.

This column will be dedicated to providing that information.

Continue reading

Virginia’s Government – a Critique

by James C. Sherlock

At the age of 75 with a life of experience in and with government, I will offer here my assessment of the current structural problems in our state government that make that government significantly less efficient and effective than it should be.  

You will note that these comments generally do not point fingers at either party, but rather at the sum of their efforts or lack of same. 

I grew up the son of a federal worker. Most of the men in our Falls Church neighborhood were WW II veterans and after the war most of them were civilian employees of the federal government. I spent nearly 30 years in the Navy and ten more as a government contractor. I dealt with Congress a lot.

In retirement, I took up causes for improving my state. I have spent a lot of time over 15 years dealing with the General Assembly, the Governor and the state administration.

So those are the bases for my perspectives. You will note that my experience dealing with the federal government informs my critique of the government of Virginia. Continue reading

Virginia’s Worst Public Schools and Districts for Black Children

by James C. Sherlock

I have competed a study of Virginia’s worst-performing schools in the education of black children.  The results presented in this essay represent a scandal of the first order and demand explanations, both from the school boards and the Virginia Department of Education.

In my next post I will review two books by prominent black academics with polar opposite views on what to do about it. But this is about the abject failure of many of Virginia’s schools to educate black students.

Continue reading

The Strange Case of a Proposed Medical Merger in Hampton Roads

by James C. Sherlock

Hampton Roads

There was a story  Could EVMS merge with ODU, Sentara?” – in the Virginian Pilot this morning. It was well done and rendered a major public service.

A private study is “assessing” a regional merger of Sentara, ODU, EVMS and Norfolk State.  “Its task will be to provide recommendations to Gov. Ralph Northam on new ways the schools and hospital system could combine.” Not whether they should, or if there are any better options. 

The study is paid for by the hopeful merger candidates, so no one will be waiting breathlessly for the findings, except apparently the Governor.  

Northam has already announced that the results “may lead to significant changes for Hampton Roads’ “health care ecosystem,” which serves more than 1 million people.

The whole project reeks of Sentara self interest. The merger being studied will not be optimized for the good of the people of Hampton Roads. 

Sentara wants the state to award it because the merger otherwise cannot withstand federal antitrust review.

Continue reading

A Broad Healthcare Agenda for the 2021 General Assembly

Towards a Better, Freer, Less Expensive and More Accessible Healthcare System in Virginia

Image credit: Gordon Johnson

by James C. Sherlock

COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in Virginia’s healthcare delivery system in both readiness and equity of access.

Even before COVID, we have been dealing for decades with the costs of all kinds imposed by Virginia’s unregulated regional healthcare monopolies. The General Assembly has an opportunity, even in this upcoming non-budget year, to deal with them in ways that also save money in Medicaid.

The Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law passed in 1973 gave the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) control over the construction and expansion of new hospitals, ambulatory care and diagnostic imagery centers and of the equipment necessary to operate them. Every effort to break the monopolies it has created or repeal the law has failed. 

We see the results of nearly 50 years of this law in the extraordinarily high costs of healthcare in Virginia, the profound unreadiness of the Virginia healthcare system for COVID and the disproportionate impact of COVID on Virginia’s poor.

It is time to stop pursuing COPN repeal and move forward with reform. 

I will offer here a broad program to update Virginia law to control costs and improve access without repeal of COPN. Each of the reforms start with the assumptions that we have regional healthcare monopolies and they are not going away and that COPN is not going to be repealed. Reform will have to work around those facts. Continue reading