Category Archives: Government Oversight

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

What Is Cuccinelli’s Role in Defining Extremism?

Photo credit: Forbes

By Peter Galuszka

Allegations that the Wolverine Watchmen, a far right extremist group based in Michigan, discussed kidnapping Gov. Ralph Northam draw questions about the role another Virginia politician has played in defining extremist threats.

Kenneth Cuccinelli a former Republican attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate, has been accused of helping delay a report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that designated white supremacist groups as the biggest domestic threat the country faces.

That apparently is at odds with President Donald Trump’s view that threats by the so-called “Antifa” leftist groups are the main worry.

Cuccinelli is currently acting deputy to Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have reported that Cuccinelli helped block an assessment by former Homeland Security intelligence chief Brian Murphy that white supremacists are the larger threat. Continue reading

Special Prosecutor to Investigate Stoney Contract

Smedley Crane & Rigging crew, sub-contracted by NAH LLC, dismantling the JEB Stuart statue.

A Richmond Circuit Court judge has appointed an August County prosecutor to investigate whether Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney broke any laws when he awarded a gave a $1.8 million contract to remove Civil War statues.

Richmond Councilwoman Kim Gray, who is running for mayor against Stoney, had requested an investigation, and Commonwealth Attorney Colette McEachin had referred the matter to Circuit Court Judge Joi Taylor.

“All I can tell you at this early stage is that we will investigate the matter in an unbiased way, and take whatever action is appropriate given what we find,” said Martin, a former Richmond prosecutor who moved to Augusta in 2014 , reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

Permanent COVID Reg Called “The Fifth Dragon”

By Steve Haner

Most Virginia employers probably have not read, let alone fully complied with, the emergency temporary standard on protecting their employees from COVID-19 adopted back in July. Yet the public comment period on the permanent version of the rules, which can carry major sanctions, closes this Friday.

Only twenty comments had been filed as of Monday morning, half of them anonymous. So far, the proposed permanent version is not generating the level of activity that surrounded the proposed temporary rule. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Code Board allowed no public hearing before adoption, only written comments.

File a comment on the proposed permanent standard here. You can read the comments to date here. The proposed permanent standard can be read here.

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Job Recovery Is Not the Special Session’s Focus

This building remains boarded up, and legislators are not there (except the House Speaker and Clerk, pantomiming a real session on Zoom.)

By Steve Haner

With the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session moving into its third week, it seems likely to impede rather than assist the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. It may also greatly expand COVID-19’s financial burdens in the years to come.

The highly publicized issues of unpaid rents and utility bills, threatening tens of thousands with choices between eviction, disconnection, or years of additional debt, are clearly related to un- and under-employment from the COVID-19 recession. But getting people back to work does not seem the top priority for legislators.

The original stated purposes for the session starting August 18 were to amend the state budget in response to the recession, and make other adjustments responding to the viral disease. Deadly confrontations between police and Black suspects in several American cities, and the violent response, added police and judicial reform issues to the agenda.  Continue reading

Covid-19 Testing for Nursing Homes – the Strange Case of Heritage Hall

By Carol J. Bova and James C. Sherlock

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would begin to provide 2000 nursing homes with a point of care (POC) rapid-response testing assessment instrument and an initial supply of COVID-19 test assays starting July 20th.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said, “It gives nursing homes the ability to swiftly identify residents that need to be isolated and mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Eventually, 15,000 analyzer instruments and an initial supply of SARS test assays for those instruments will be distributed nationally directly to nursing homes.

Devices have been allocated to the first 23 of Virginia’s nearly 300 nursing homes.

Heritage Hall. Tommy East is the President and CEO of American Healthcare, LLC, which controls Heritage Hall nursing homes. Mr. East is also listed as a director and officer for each Heritage Hall facility. He is the sole nursing home industry representative on the Virginia Board of Health.

Seven of 18 Heritage Hall nursing homes made it to the head of the line for the first 23 analyzer systems and test assays distributed in Virginia by the CMS program. Heritage Hall is the largest Commonwealth-based operator of nursing homes.

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