Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

The Wrong Way to Tackle Food Insecurity

Sen. Mark Warner in Salem yesterday.

According to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, more than 1 million Virginians live in food deserts. To deal with the problem, he has sponsored legislation in Congress to incentivize businesses and nonprofits to provide healthy food in those areas. And he was in Salem yesterday visiting Feeding America Southwest Virginia to talk about food insecurity.

Reports the Roanoke Times:

His legislation would provide tax credits to companies that build new grocery stores or retrofit an existing store’s healthy food sections. It also would provide grants to food banks that build permanent structures or to temporary access merchants like mobile markets and farmers markets.

What is wrong with this picture? It assumes that the problem is a supply-side problem, not a demand-side problem. Continue reading

Kamras Feeds a False Narrative

Jason Kamras

In a Sunday op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond city school Superintendent Jason Kamras opined on “institutional racism” in Virginia schools. In building his case for the existence of such injustice, he cited the supposed disparity in funding, writing:

According to the National Center on Education Statistics, Virginia’s highest poverty school divisions — which serve large percentages of children of color — receive 8.3 percent less in per pupil funding than the state’s wealthiest districts. Put plainly: the students who should be getting more are actually getting less. If all the children in our poorest school divisions were white, I am certain the commonwealth would have found a way to fix its convoluted and unjust funding policies so that our lower-income communities received more.

Really? Let’s look at the numbers. The following data come from the Superintendent’s Annual Report for Virginia based on FY 2016 budgets:

Per pupil spending
City of Richmond — $13,843
Hanover County — $9,772
Henrico County — $9,644
Chesterfield County — $9,592 Continue reading

General Assembly Acts to Curb Evictions

by Richard Hall-Sizemore

Virginia has made another “top-10 in the nation” list. But this one is not one to be celebrated. Last spring, using national eviction data, researchers at Princeton University released eviction rate rankings of large cities in the United States. Cities in Virginia comprised five of the ten cities with the highest eviction rates. Those were Richmond (2), Hampton (3), Newport News (4), Norfolk (6), and Chesapeake (10). By going down a little further on the list to no. 15, one would find a sixth Virginia city, Virginia Beach.

These findings sparked a flurry of activity and commentary in the Richmond area, including Bacon’s Rebellion. The Center for Urban and Regional Analysis of VCU’s Wilder School set up a program, RVA Eviction Lab, similar to the Princeton program that produced the national report, to examine issues related to eviction in Richmond and has recently released a series of reports.

Perhaps most significantly, the General Assembly and the Governor have swung into action. Shortly after the Princeton report was issued, the Virginia Housing Commission took up the issue. The Housing Commission is one of those permanent legislative bodies established by the Code of Virginia for examination of specific areas. Its membership is drawn from both houses of the General Assembly. The commission recommended legislation dealing with about six primary issues. Those bills were introduced in both houses with a bipartisan set of chief patrons. So far, most of the bills have encountered no opposition, having been passed unanimously by the original houses in either their original or amended forms. Continue reading

Senate Addresses Supply of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing in Northern Virginia

One in three households in the state spends more than 30 percent of their income on housing, reports the Virginia Mercury. The apartment industry argues that housing will become unaffordable for even more as the state’s population grows faster than the housing supply.

If I were a middle-class Virginian most of whose net worth was tied up in my home equity, I expect I’d be particular about who lives near me. I probably would not be happy to discover that some developer wanted to build “affordable housing” next door. But my right to build a house on my own property does not entitle me to stop someone else from building housing on his property. Continue reading

Mapping the Opioid Death Epidemic


This map illustrates a key point in the previous post. The localities marked in blue show increases in opioid-related deaths between 2011 and 2017, and the localities shaded red experienced a decrease. While the opioid epidemic has intensified in Virginia overall, the increase (in raw numbers) has been concentrated in Virginia’s metropolitan areas. The rural pockets of “despair” have seen the problem stabilize or even recede — except, strangely enough, in the far-flung exurbs of Washington.

I’m still trying to figure out the free Datawrapper software, and I can’t get the colors in the table to match up with those on the map. And I can’t figure out how to adjust the color for poor Richmond County (the dark blue spot on the Northern Neck), which somehow got tagged with the same color as the City of Richmond. Hopefully, I’ll get better at displaying data with future maps.

Opioid Overdose Deaths and Diseases of Despair

Data source: Virginia Department of Health. (Click for larger image.)

Everyone seems to agree that Virginia, like the rest of the nation, is in the grips of an epidemic of opioid overdoses. Virginia Department of Health (VDH) data show that the number of overdose deaths attributable to Fentanyl and/or heroin and to prescription opioids has increased from 637 in 2011 to 1,426 last year. The dominant trope in reporting and commentary on this surge is to refer to it as a “disease of despair” connected to deteriorating social and economic conditions. To add insight, VDH breaks down not only the number of overdoses by locality on its data portal, but so-called “social determinants of health” such as the percentage of children in poverty.

“On the surface, it appears to be the opioid epidemic, but where you look at the opioid epidemic or addiction in general, it’s really a disease of despair,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver at a Virginia Board of Health meeting last month. “What drives it is the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of transportation …” Continue reading

Re-Examining the Role of Elite Higher Ed in American Society

Princeton. Ivied walls or moss-backed walls?

by Reed Fawell III

“Going to Yale Could Make You Rich, or Lonely,” by Lyman Stone, published in The Federalist on Dec. 19, 2018, exposed some surprising findings regarding the costs and benefits of college attendance. Stone is worth quoting at length:

There’s a long-standing economic consensus that, for high schoolers smart enough to get admitted into the University of Kentucky (average SAT score of about 1000-1100) and Yale (average SAT score of about 1400-1600), it really doesn’t matter which college they attend … [Researchers have identified] how much money students earn 10 or 20 years later. It turns out going to Yale doesn’t add one penny to how much money a Yale admit earns.”

Continue reading

EITC Grants Do Nothing for Middle Class

Two examples showing results from the EITC Refund Calculator (Commonwealth Institute).  There is no benefit to taxpayers earning $30,000 or more.  An increase in the standard deduction benefits them instead.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) proposal that Virginia Democrats are pushing for passage in the 2019 General Assembly is being sold as a major financial boon for the middle class, but is it?

“Our working families making $54,000 a year or less are not going to see a big benefit from these federal tax changes,” Governor Ralph Northam told legislators on December 18. “Those are the Virginians who already see a disproportionate part of their paychecks go to taxes.  They deserve to keep more of their paychecks.”

Northam is off by more than $25,000.  Using the simple EITC Refund Calculator on the website of Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, the EITC’s strongest proponent, it becomes clear the EITC grants will mainly go to taxpayers earning $25,000 or less, and the rhetoric about middle class families is misleading.  For taxpayers earning more than $25,000 the benefit from his proposal disappears quickly.   Continue reading

Northam Plans to Curtail License Suspensions

A huge victory for the drive-to-work movement: Governor Ralph Northam has announced plans to halt the practice of suspending driver’s licenses as a way to collect unpaid court fines and fees, reports the Washington Post.

In Virginia more than 276,000 licenses were suspended in 2017 alone. The practice creates a Catch-22 for the people, mostly poor and working class, who are affected. Judges revoke peoples’ licenses as incentive to pay court penalties. But without a license, many can’t work and earn the money to pay the penalties. Indeed, the problem compounds because people driving on suspended licenses often get stopped for unrelated traffic offenses and rack up even bigger fines. The system, in a word, is insane, and a bipartisan majority has come to see it for the policy folly that it is.

Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., R-Franklin, has submitted a bill that would end license suspensions for drivers who fail to pay fines and costs. Stanley praised Northam’s plan. “I’m glad that he’s thinking like me.”

The WaPo story did not detail how Northam would approach the problem.

There is one obvious concern. Courts need some kind of sanction for people who refuse to pay their court fines and fees. If jailing them makes no sense — they can’t pay back their penalties if they’re stewing in confinement — and if suspending their drivers’ licenses is self-defeating, what other alternatives are there? One possible partial solution is to make it easier for people living hand-to-mouth to work out long-term repayment plans. But there will always be scofflaws and free-riders, so there needs to be some kind of punishment for them.

Bacon’s bottom line: This is one of those rare issues where Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians can all agree: As a society, we want to make it easier, not harder, for people to work for a living and meet their obligations. Ending the practice of suspending licenses is a big step in the right direction.

But legislation should not stop there. Unless they provide courts with some means of collecting fines and fees, lawmakers will empower the scofflaws and encourage contempt for the law.

EITC, TANF and the Benefits Cliff

The “Benefit Cliff” for a mother with two children in Albemarle County. As income rises, SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, housing assistance and other benefits disappear.  This example does not include the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Source: VA DSS

For low income families receiving assistance in Virginia, their cash benefit from the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is larger – often substantially larger – than the cash provided by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

A single mother with two small children who has a full-time minimum wage job ($7.25 per hour) qualified for EITC benefits of $436.33, in an example provided by the Virginia Department of Social Services based on 2015 data.  The EITC is paid out as a lump sum but the example broke it into monthly increments.  Doing that underlines its origin as a form of guaranteed minimum income, with the grant adding the equivalent of an additional $2.50 per hour to income.

Continue reading

The Push for EITC Cash Grants Accelerates

A useful EITC example from the Commonwealth Institute’s website. Whether anybody “earns” a credit is debatable, but that claim will appeal to those who benefit.

With the 2019 General Assembly now a handful of weeks away, the main advocacy group for a new cash welfare entitlement in Virginia is ramping up its efforts with various appeals, perhaps testing themes for later use.

On Wednesday on its website the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis was arguing that the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) should be converted to a “refundable” cash grant because of how it would help “communities of color,” who pay a larger percentage of their income in state and local taxes.

A few weeks back, the focus was on how “veterans and their families deserve full credit.”  And, of course, they have broken down their data by legislative district, conflating the number of people who claim the EITC already with the number who would benefit from their idea.  Not everybody who now claims the state EITC would qualify for a grant.

The first to advocate for converting the tax credit into a cash payment was Governor Ralph Northam, who mentioned it last summer as his favored use for the windfall state income tax dollars generated by conformity.  It has nothing to do with that windfall.  In order to benefit from this idea, you already must be paying zero state income tax.

In recognition of that, the argument now is people need to get the balance returned in cash because they are still paying sales, excise and other taxes, just not income taxes.  It’s not good enough to zero out their income tax, advocates claim.

As previously explored, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a program with conservative credentials and has succeeded in improving the finances of low-income working families.  At the federal level, if your income and family size qualify you for a credit which is larger than your tax bill, the difference is sent to you in cash.  To call it a “refund” is political fiction, because it is not cash you paid in taxes to start with.  It just comes at the same time the rest of us are getting refunds.

The federal version has grown into a major income transfer program, about $60 billion annually, and as always with these programs the push to expand them is constant.  A Democratic House of Representatives will be more attentive.

In an earlier tax reform effort, Virginia added its own version of the program, allowing a credit against state taxes equal to 20 percent of the federal EITC.  But Virginia did not take the second step of paying cash grants from state revenue to people who had larger credits than tax bills.  That is what Northam and the Commonwealth Institute are talking about doing now.

The cost impact is about $250 million, based on an earlier legislative proposal which failed, but a full analysis is lacking.  The cost to taxpayers – and it is a cost to taxpayers, not a refund and not tax reform – will need to be more carefully spelled out when a bill finally appears.  Advocates have developed a calculator for individuals and for some the grants would be substantial.

While this proposal is not tax reform, but instead is a way to share the windfall revenue with low-income working families, the idea is not incompatible with tax reform.  It would be possible to couple it with an increase in the standard deduction or some other change in personal income taxes that actually aligns with to the conformity windfall.  It is only a question of how much revenue with which the legislature is willing to part (for some, the answer is none).

The proposal to expand the standard deduction would reach far more Virginians – more in “communities of color,” more veterans, more in every legislative district – than would turning EITC into a cash grant.  The problem for some on the left is they would not all be poor or working-class and might even be well-off.

What they would not be is the same people.  As noted before, to qualify for the cash grant Northam and the Commonwealth Institute are talking about, you already must be paying zero state income tax.  If the EITC credit has already wiped out your state tax bill, an additional standard deduction is of no value.

But there is this, which should appeal to the Commonwealth Institute:  The additional standard deduction would add to the number of people who pay zero income tax.  An EITC cash grant would go to those already paying zero but would not grow their ranks.

And this:  The additional standard deduction would stay with you as your income grew.  EITC – whether a credit or both a credit and grant — shrinks as your income grows, and that is what people really want, growing income.

If the General Assembly must choose, it should choose tax reform and increase the standard deduction.  If its willing to do both, well, this is why the legislative process is great theater.  It cannot be predicted.

2019 General Assembly Session – Privatizing Public Roads in McLean, Va

Judge Dillon’s revenge.  Development vs transportation has been a long running battle in Virginia. Northern Virginia’s local government  politicians never met a developer (or developer’s campaign contribution) they didn’t love. Virginia’s state legislators love NoVa growth since it provides more state tax money to spread around like party favors to their downstate constituencies. However, those same state legislators loathe the idea of repatriating many of those tax dollars back to Northern Virginia to fund needed transportation improvements. The local pols blame the state pols for failing to fund transportation in NoVa. The state pols blame the locals for ineffective land use planning. Meanwhile, both localities and the state are throwing their shoulders out of joint patting themselves on the back over winning half of the new Amazon HQ2 deal. There have even been rumors that Apple may be looking at NoVa for another 20,000 jobs. What could possibly go wrong?

No need to wait for chaos. While Amazon HQ2, Apple and the “densificiation” of Tysons are all largely future events, the chaos of underfunded transportation is already here. Loudoun County’s population grew 97% between 1990 and 2000, 84% from 2000 to 2010 and 27.5% from 2010 to 2017.  Meanwhile, over 50% of Loudoun workers commute to work outside of Loudoun County (hint: they are not working in West Virginia). At the same time, a veritable caravan of immigrants from The Socialist Republic of Maryland cross the Virginia border every morning seeking a better life through employment in Virginia. The predictable result is that the American Legion Bridge has become a chokepoint that backs up the Beltway for miles, especially in the evening.

Adding insult to injury. The same kind of advanced technology that so enthralls Virginia’s politicians in the HQ2 deal creates nightmares for McLean residents. Navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps are being blamed for showing Loudon commuters and Maryland economic refugees how to bypass Beltway traffic by using the surface streets of McLean. The resulting backups on streets that are often narrow and shoulder-less wreak havoc on the daily lives of those living in the affected neighborhoods. One can only wonder how much worse this will get once the new construction in Tysons is completed and Amazon HQ2 starts adding traffic to Arlington, Alexandria and Tysons.

It’s good to be Queen. Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-McLean, has a plan.  Privatize McLean’s public streets for the exclusive use of McLean residents, at least during rush hour. Murphy’s HB295 has been carried over from the 2018 session. The bill is summarized as follows …

“Allows counties that operate under the urban county executive form of government (Fairfax County) by ordinance to develop a program to issue permits to residents of a designated area that will allow such residents to make turns into or out of the neighborhood during certain times of the day where such turns would otherwise be restricted.”

It seems Del. Murphy will protect herself and her well-heeled neighbors in McLean by simply banning traffic she finds inconvenient. Let the commuters eat cake. It’s easy to feel sympathy for the residents of the many areas in Northern Virginia being ruined by clogged streets full of cut through traffic. However, it’s hard to see where this ends. Will the far less affluent citizens of the Route 1 corridor be able to ban cut through traffic on their streets too? Or will this remedy be reserved for Del. Murphy and her wealthy neighbors in McLean?  Limousine liberalism anyone?

Correction: HB295 was incorrectly described as pre-filed in the original version of this article. In fact, it was carried over from the 2018 session.  The content has been changed to reflect this correction.  

— Don Rippert

Medicaid Expansion’s Achilles Heel: the Doctor Shortage

Source: “Virginia Physician Workforce Shortage” presentation to the Joint Commission on Health Care, Sept. 2013.

The Northam administration sold Medicaid expansion to the public in part by claiming that the net cost to Virginia taxpayers would be minimal. Uncle Sam would pay for 90% of the cost of extending medical coverage to up to 400,000 Virginians, and the state’s 10% share would be offset by savings in prisons, mental health, and other areas. What no one talked about, except in the fine print, was the necessity of increasing reimbursements to physicians.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page explains today why higher reimbursements for physicians are an integral and unavoidable part of Medicaid expansion:

Medicaid underpays its physicians, reimbursing them at only 71 percent of the rate they get paid by Medicare, and an even smaller percentage of what private insurers pay. As a consequence, only 63 percent of physicians accept Medicaid patients, and only 71 percent of those are taking new patients. So, when Medicaid expands eligibility to as many as 400,000 near-poor Virginians this year, many will find it difficult to find a primary care physician, and they’ll wind up seeking care in the emergency room, just like they always have.

The Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS), which administers Virginia’s Medicaid program, now is asking for $19.1 million in the second year of the next biennial budget for Virginia’s share of the cost to lure more docs into the program. The hope is that hiking reimbursements from 71% of the Medicare benchmark to 80% of the benchmark will induce a meaningful number of physicians to take more Medicaid patients.

How likely is that?

Virginia has about 25,000 full-time-equivalent physicians, according to “Virginia Physician Workforce: 2016” published last year by the Healthcare Workforce Data Center (HWDC).

Source:  “Virginia Physician Workforce: 2016”

HWDC found that 57% of physician were accepting new patients at their primary office. Of those who are taking in more patients in their primary offices, 35% can accept no more than 50, while 23% can accept between 50 and 99 new patients. If I understand its presentation correctly (see the chart to the left) HWDC estimated a “new patient capacity” of about 14,000 at both primary and secondary locations. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the expected influx of 400,000 new Medicaid patients.

The shortage is not likely to improve. Nearly 4,000 doctors, about 17% of the physician workforce, are over 65 years or older. Although many docs plan to work into their 70s, 8% of Virginia’s physicians plan to retire within two years, and 30% expect to do so within 10, estimates the HWDC.

If 8% of physicians retire in the next two years — about 1,000 per year — there are two ways, broadly speaking, to replace them. (1) working physicians can take in more patients, and (2) hospitals can recruit more doctors.

Female physicians work fewer hours on average than males at all ages. Source:  “Virginia Physician Workforce: 2016

While older physicians are predominantly male, the younger generation of physicians is half female. That’s great for gender equality, but it stretches the profession even thinner because female physicians tend to work fewer hours than males (presumably because, as mothers, many are juggling professional and domestic responsibilities). As male physicians age out and are replaced by females, doctors on average will tend to work fewer hours, meaning they will see fewer patients. For this and other reasons, 2,531 doctors told HWDC they were planning to decrease patient hours compared to 2,183 who said they were planning to increase their hours within the next two years — a net of 348 doctors intending to cut back.

Another way to accommodate 400,000 more Medicaid patients is to train and recruit new doctors. According to HWDC data, Virginia medical schools granted 1,322 residencies over the past five years. That’s a pipeline of barely 600 per year. Assuming every Virginia resident stayed in Virginia (which they don’t), the number fall significantly short of the 1,000 or so doctors expected to retire. That means the gap must be filled by recruiting doctors from outside the state. How likely is that to occur? Who knows. That’s a big uncertainty.

Some regions of Virginia will be able to absorb the influx of Medicaid patients better than others. The major metropolitan areas have higher doctor-population ratios than the non-metros. Indeed, as shown in the map at atop of this post, a 2013 presentation to the Joint Commission on Health Care designated much of the state as “primary care shortage areas.” That presentation cited a shortage of 126 primary care physicians in those areas. Continue reading

A Crime-Fighting Experiment at Gilpin Court

Police patrol at Gilpin Court. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Attorney General’s office is funding an interesting social experiment. On the theory that fighting crime requires addressing root causes over and above actually, uh, fighting crime, the AG is providing $1 million to fund programs designed to improve health, education and economic outcomes and strengthen neighborhood ties at the City of Richmond’s largest housing project, Gilpin Court.

“Instead of a top-down approach that tries to tell Gilpin what it needs, we’re going to bring together everyone who cares about this community and who has good ideas to reduce crime, strengthen the neighborhood, and improve quality of life for Gilpin residents, especially young people, said Attorney General Mark Herring, as quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Greater Gilpin is going to reduce crime and make Gilpin Court safer by taking a more holistic approach and attacking the factors we know contribute to higher rates of crime, like poverty, drug use, limited educational or job opportunities, and poor health.”

The grant will allocate $187,000 to pay for additional police patrols in Gilpin Court, a project of 781 housing units occupied by about 2,700 residents. But the rest will go to hiring a full-time program coordinator and underwrite for programs identified through community meetings.

“Building stronger, safer communities means addressing the underlying factors that can contribute to violence and violent crime,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement. “This initiative will build on the strengths of the community and empower Gilpin residents to have a say and a stake in the future of the neighborhood.”

The program encapsulates every liberal piety about the relationship between poverty and crime…. which, in my estimation, means that it is doomed to failure because liberal pieties about poverty and crime are misguided. While it is true that violent crime is more prevalent in poor neighborhoods, there has been very little correlation between changes in the rates of poverty and violent crime over the decades. The relationship between the two is tenuous and complex with many intervening variables.

One critical variable is the prevalence of families dominated by unwed mothers and the lack of consistent daily discipline provided by fathers, which results in a failure to enculturate young people with non-violent norms. Teenage boys roam free in Gilpin Court with few parental restrictions. They develop their own young, male, Lord-of-the-Flies subculture, which skews towards partying, substance abuse, petty criminality, an obsession with status among peers, and, often, violence.

To the extent that crime among male teens and young men is the outcome of rational calculation — weighing potential gains from crime versus the prospect of getting caught and punished — increased neighborhood patrols undoubtedly will be useful. Richmond police doctrine emphasizes the building of community bonds that engender trust with residences, so a heightened the police presence should have a positive impact. Conversely, while the funding of “community programs” may provide benefits to Gilpin residents, unless they interrupt the dynamic of fatherless boys, I am dubious that they will have any impact on crime.

I might be wrong, however. I’m not omniscient. Perhaps liberals have it right. Perhaps the program will be a smashing success. The fact is, nobody knows. That’s the point of conducting an experiment.

I’d be all in favor of conducting this particular experiment if it were set up so we might learn something from it. Ideally, the experiment would confirm or disprove the notion that addressing certain “underlying factors” by means of programs chosen through community input will reduce crime. Unfortunately by doing two things at once, both boosting policing and attacking root causes, the factors contributing to positive or negative outcomes will be hard to disentangle. If the program does prove to be beneficial, we are unlikely to learn anything from it because we won’t know whether the police or the community programs deserve the credit. In the absence of unambiguous data, liberals will continuing embracing their pieties, and conservatives theirs, everyone will continue believing what they always believed, and we will flounder about as always.

Smaller Class Sizes Not the Answer

Graph credit: John Butcher

Parents and educators commonly believe that smaller class sizes provide a superior education. It seems logical: Smaller classes allow teachers to provide more individual attention to students. But the evidence supporting this intuitive view is surprisingly thin. A new study by the Campbell Collaboration, which promotes social and economic change through evidence-based policy, which calls the conventional wisdom into question.

The belief in the efficacy of small class sizes has inspired class-size reductions in the United States, Great Britain and Netherlands, observes the study, “Small class sizes for improving student achievement in elementary and secondary schools: a systematic review.” But the investment is expensive? Does it work?

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 127 studies that analyzed 55 student populations across 41 countries. The conclusion: “There is some evidence to suggest that there is an effect of reducing class size on reading achievement, though the effect is very small. There is no significant effect on mathematics achievement.”

While the overall effect is negligible, smaller class sizes have been shown to be more beneficial for students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Smaller class sizes are costly, however, the study argues, and there may be more cost-effective strategies for improving student achievement.

I asked John Butcher, of Cranky’s Blog fame, to run an analysis for Virginia school systems. The chart above, which compares teacher-pupil ratios and math Standards of Learning pass rates of Virginia school districts, shows a negative (though statistically insignificant) correlation between teacher-pupil ratios and academic performance — totally consistent with the Campbell Collaboration study.

Bacon’s bottom line: Parents and educators in Virginia take it as an article of faith that class size is a key determinant of educational quality. But the effect may be far less significant than imagined. Instead of pushing for smaller classes, perhaps educators should consider different strategies.

For example: A judicious increase in class sizes — say, from 24 students per class to 26 students, should have no discernible effect on student achievement. But what if adjusting the teacher-student ratio freed resources that could be redirected to staffing classrooms dedicated to disadvantaged or disabled kids with a track record of disrupting their classes? Would such focused classes do a better job of helping the troubled students? Would the removal of classroom troublemakers allow teachers do a better job of teaching the other students?

I don’t know the answer. And even if I thought I did, I’d favor running pilot programs to test the idea before rolling it out on a large scale. But this is the kind of thinking, I submit, in which we need to engage rather than doubling down on stale and failed prescriptions.