Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

Equal Protection, Affirmative Action and Effecting Generational Change

by James C. Sherlock

America is the most successful nation in the history of the world because of the freedoms and rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

More than a hundred other nations have emulated the American Constitution.

Without constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and rights, we would be chained to the whims of the state. Most immediately to the whims of the executive branch. There would be precious little for the judicial branch to protect.

A recent Supreme Court decision found affirmative action in college admissions to be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, Section 1:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Justice Roberts for the majority ruling that the Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause:

Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.

Three justices disagreed.

Justice Sotomayor read her opinion from the bench — a sign of strong disagreement. An excerpt:

Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions to achieve such critical benefits. In so holding, the Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.

Note that Justice Sotomayor, as always careful of the words in her opinions, chose “endemically” to modify “segregated.” Oxford dictionary: “regularly found and very common among a particular group or in a particular area.”

That is different than the word “systemically” — Oxford: “in a basic and important way that involves the whole of an organization or a country and not just particular parts of it.” Continue reading

Primary Care for Underserved Virginians

by James C. Sherlock

It is an old story for Virginia: shortages of primary care providers in inner cities and rural areas.

Perhaps the best article I have ever seen on the unique value of primary care and payment reforms to reflect its value was published in 2021 in the Harvard Business Review.

I recommend it wholeheartedly. Especially to Virginia Medicaid.

But if all of the excellent recommendations in that article were adopted, they would not by themselves put primary care physicians where they are needed most.

Solving primary care shortages in Virginia should be a bipartisan issue because it affects Democratic and Republican strongholds roughly equally. But it has never in my experience gotten enough traction in Richmond.

The problem is centered around the fact that government insurance alone does not reimburse primary care physicians or nurse practitioners sufficiently to support a practice.

Whether single practitioner or groups, including hospital-owned groups, they currently need some minimum percentage of privately insured patients to pay the bills.

Otherwise, to serve the poor, they generally have to work for the government, which itself cannot fill the jobs it already has in underserved locations.

What to do?

First, care enough about the problem to address it. Then, think outside the current box. Continue reading

Pilot Editorial Shows Glimmers of Insight

A glimmer of light… but just a glimmer

by James A. Bacon

The editorial board of The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press is committed to the proposition that the United States is afflicted by “systemic inequalities” between the races. The publication’s analysis is more nuanced, however, than much of what we read and hear. Opining on the role of credit scores in building wealth in America, the Pilot wrote in a column yesterday, “Race plays a role, but is not in itself the determining factor.”

It’s refreshing to see the Pilot’s pundits not using racism as the universal explanation for all social ills besetting minorities today. But they still have a bit to learn.

African Americans have lower credit scores on average than the general population, the Pilot notes, drawing from research conducted by The Washington Post. The reason isn’t overt racism or even bias in the credit-reporting systems, it appears, but the fact that credit scores are lower in Southern states… and the African-American population is concentrated in the South. Why are credit scores lower in the South? Because of medical debt. Says the Pilot: “The South has a lot more unpaid medical bills than other regions.”

Unpaid medical bills may not sound like institutional racism, but the Pilot’s pontificators imply that it really is.

For starters the South has more than our share of unhealthy people. Much of that poor health is a result of systemic inequalities that lead to poverty and related problems such as food “deserts” where inner-city people have limited access to healthy foods.

Plus, the South was slower to expand Medicaid than other regions of the country.

Thus, in the worldview of the Pilot’s editorial writers, the chain of causality runs like this: (1) Racism created food deserts; (2) which made people overweight; (3) which put more people in the hospital; (4) which resulted in bigger medical bills; which people could not always repay until Medicaid came along; (5) which hurt credit scores; (6) which contributed to a wealth gap. Continue reading

Feeding Petersburg

Garrison Coward oversees Gov. Youngkin’s Partnership for Petersburg initiative – photo contributed to the Progress-Index

by James C. Sherlock

I have written in this space many times about the struggles of Petersburg.

Petersburg is blessed in one way.

The Progress-Index’s Bill Atkinson and Joyce Chu may be the best pair of local news reporters working in Virginia.

Mr. Atkinson, in a series of reports, has detailed the continuing struggles of that city to get a grocery store downtown.

The big grocers surround the center of the city in more prosperous, safer areas but have not entered there.

Food Markets in Petersburg courtesy of Bing Maps

It is no secret why. Poverty and crime do not attract retailers vulnerable to shoplifting and worse. And Petersburg is among the poorest and most crime-ridden in Virginia.

A recent Petersburg solicitation for interest in building a grocery store downtown drew no bidders.

The Governor has a broad Partnership for Petersburg initiative to help Petersburg help itself  It is run by Garrison Coward, an external-affairs senior advisor to Gov. Youngkin.

He reports that the Governor is “hell-bent” on seeing a grocery store built there.

I will offer an idea. Continue reading

Petersburg Seeks State Funding for Projects Linked to Public Health and the Appomattox River

Courtesy Petersburg Virginia website

by James C. Sherlock

While all of the attention in the state press has been on Petersburg’s proposed casino, the estimable Bill Atkinson of the Petersburg Progress-Index provided insight into other Petersburg requests to the General Assembly for budget amendments.

Badly needed infrastructure projects and a tourism initiative are each tied to the health of both the Appomattox River and the citizens of Petersburg. Continue reading

No Better Time to Instill Financial Literacy in Black and Brown Virginian Youth

by Sherifah Munis

Racial systemic inequalities have recently been brought to the forefront of our national conscience, shedding light on the centuries of policies that have disadvantaged Black and Brown Americans’ ability to build, maintain, and pass on wealth. A striking 2019 statistic shows that the median family wealth (the difference between gross assets and liabilities) for White Americans was $188,200 compared to $24,100 for Black Americans and $36,100 for Hispanic families.

One area of resounding disparity is the inequality between Black and Brown Americans and their White counterparts regarding access to and knowledge of financial literacy – the ability to understand and apply financial skills related to personal financial management, budgeting, and investing. This gap is evident in the research on Black Americans with regard to low home ownership, low participation in the financial marketplace, high credit card and student loan debt, and expensive credit card behavior (such as paying minimum fees, incurring late fees, and taking cash advances).

The financial literacy education in U.S. public schools is inconsistent across states, often integrated into history or other social studies curricula, or only offered as an optional topic. The good news is the Virginia Board of Education approved one standard unit of credit in economics and personal finance as a requirement for high school graduation beginning with students who entered ninth grade in fall 2011. However, as a mom of teenagers, I noticed first-hand that the personal finance classes my kids participated in were varied in that an economics class fulfilling the personal finance requirement didn’t necessarily teach how to create a budget, or what it takes to build and maintain credit, etc. One potential solution to this problem is a standardized, culturally-relevant, and youth-oriented financial literacy program.
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Graduates. And Not.

by John Butcher

The U.S. Department of Education requires every state to annually report high school graduation rates. Those data, along with students’ performances on state assessments in subjects such as mathematics, English, and science, along with other measures, are also used to determine annual accreditation ratings.

The VDOE’s website includes the Superintendent’s Annual Report where one can find a wealth of information at the state, division, and school levels.

At first glance, the spreadsheet in Table 5, Diploma Graduates and Completers, looks to be a source of interesting graduation data. The 2022 report gives the diploma counts for 2022 and the fall memberships for 2019. However, calculating the federal diploma rates from those data shows a 203.6% rate for Radford and 151.8% for Hopewell.
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Virginia Community Schools Redefined – Hubs for Government and Not-for-Profit Services in Inner Cities – Part 1 – the Current Framework

by James C. Sherlock

I believe a major approach to address both education and health care in Virginia’s inner cities is available if we will define it right and use it right.

Community schools.

One issue. Virginia’s official version of community schools, the Virginia Community School Framework, (the Framework) is fatally flawed.

The approach successful elsewhere brings government professional healthcare and social services and not-for-profit healthcare assets simultaneously to the schools and to the surrounding communities at a location centered around existing schools.

That model is a government and private not-for-profit services hub centered around schools in communities that need a lot of both. Lots of other goals fall into place and efficiencies are realized for both the community and the service providers if that is the approach.

That is not what Virginia has done in its 2019 Framework.

The rest of government and the not-for-profit sector are ignored and Virginia public schools are designed there to be increasingly responsible for things that they are not competent to do.

To see why, we only need to review the lists of persons who made up both the Advisory Committee and the Additional Contributors. Full of Ed.Ds and Ph.D’s in education, there was not a single person on either list with a job or career outside the field of education. Continue reading

School Discipline, Part III: Reframing Discipline in Virginia and Considerations for Making New Policy

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

Reframing School Discipline

The Student Behavior and Administrative Response (SBAR) data collection was implemented in response to reframing school discipline from that of criminal, punishment, and exclusionary practices from 1991-2020 to that of restorative, intervention, and inclusionary practices in 2021 and beyond. The SBAR reports on behaviors that impede academic progress, behaviors related to school operations, relationship behaviors, behaviors that present a safety concern, behaviors that endanger self or others, and behaviors identified as persistently dangerous.

The SBAR records responses to discipline such as class removals, suspensions, expulsions with or without instructional services, and loss of privileges; behavioral interventions such as parents contacts, referrals, restorative practices; and instructional supports such as changes in placement, virtual programs, and support with and without face-to-face teacher contact.

The collection will always have inherent problems. Some data are clear: suspension or expulsion. Some data are not clear: support with or without face-to-face teacher contact. What if that contact was made by an administrator? Would removal for the last five minutes of class period be considered a removal? The reporting individual could inadvertently make the data very unreliable.

A cursory literature review demonstrated that “reframing discipline” occurred not only in Virginia, but throughout most educational institutions and juvenile justice organizations. Tight discipline policies in the late 1990s and early 2000s were replaced by less rigid or loose policies as early as 2010. After expulsions and suspensions catapulted, deterrent policies that used police, cameras, metal detectors, and locker searches were replaced by progressive policies that allow for a continuum of responses, prevention, intervention, supports, and consequences that foster positive behaviors.

Unintended Consequences of Both Tight and Loose Policies

Tight discipline policies do not allow for mitigation. The teacher uses minimal discretion for enforcement of rules. Breaking a rule, no matter the circumstance, is followed by a prescribed consequence. Loose discipline policies allow for more teacher and principal latitude over managing students. Loose discipline policies allow them to navigate the circumstance and use their professional judgment and expertise to decide on how much or how little  consequence should be received.

Our efforts to address disproportionality through looser policies that allow more educator discretion and at the same time provide better reporting and hold schools accountable may have inadvertently caused additional problems. Continue reading

School Discipline, Part I: Framing School Discipline and National Data

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

This is the first of a three-part series on school discipline. The authors present the information and then provide discussion questions. We hope the discussion will further an understanding of the complexity of school discipline and safe and orderly schools. Part I of this series frames school discipline and provides the latest national data from the Office of Civil Rights. Part II dives into Virginia data regarding suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests and context for Virginia’s disproportionality concerns. Part III discusses how discipline has been “reframed” in recent years.

School discipline is not a simple problem. There are some aspects that educators have a great deal of power to address and other aspects that are outside their ability to influence. Recent events have also likely caused school discipline to become more complex and difficult to address.

From an Administrator’s Experience

When Dr. Matthew Hurt was an assistant principal in a K-8 school 20 years ago, discipline was among his main duties. By working with teachers, students, parents, and staff, disciplinary infractions declined each year.

He learned early-on that suspending students was like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch. The practice gave students a vacation where likely no one was there to help them catch up on their work. As it provided no disincentive to stop negative behaviors, the administration focused on in-school suspension. Staff found this was a significantly better deterrent. With in-school suspensions (ISS), the school employed an individual who worked with the kids to make sure any missed instruction was mitigated. For smaller infractions, students would be assigned to ISS during their lunch and exploratory classes (PE, music, etc.) so they wouldn’t miss any core instruction. Kids hated missing the social time with their peers, and this provided great incentive to improve their behavior.

The second lesson Dr. Hurt learned is that the administration had to support teachers with discipline. Teachers realized that what they did in their classrooms was prized, and that they were supported for not tolerating any shenanigans while teaching. Their instructional time was extremely precious. The administration supported the in-class disciplinary measures that teachers implemented and told them to send kids to the office as soon as their behavior became untenable. Students realized quickly that once their teacher sent them out of the classroom, consequences were quickly and progressively meted out.

Like every other school, this school enrolled students who frequently needed discipline, and a lot of time was spent with those students. The administration’s philosophy was that if a student was misbehaving, there were usually factors that must be taken into consideration. Disciplinary consequences were consistent regardless of those factors, but they realized there may be some mitigating interventions that could be applied to improve future behaviors. Many of these students lived in chaotic and sometimes violent homes. Staff realized that they had to double their efforts to ensure that these students had stability during the school day and realized that teachers and administrators were there to support their efforts to be successful at school. The administration spent a lot of time working with parents to find out their perspective about their kid’s behavior. They also worked with outside agencies to better coordinate necessary services. The more successful school staff were at identifying student social/emotional needs and mitigating those, the more successful they were at mitigating their negative behaviors.
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RVA 5×5 – Holiday Briefing

by Jon Baliles

It’s Friday! Which means this newsletter would normally be filled with stories and analysis about what is happening in the RVA region (not all of it good), with an honest and insightful take (so far as that is possible). For instance, this week we could have stories about:

A non-profit that presented a homeless shelter plan to the City in June and still hasn’t received the go-ahead or money to open; so they raised $30,000 on their own this week to open a shelter this weekend because the Mayor and City haven’t been able to get their head out of the sand for SIX MONTHS to execute a contract. If a timeline helps your perspective, the City sent the latest contract to the non-profit on November 13th, which returned it to the City within two days. The non-profit did not receive a response until December 20. Temperatures will get down to ten degrees tonight and won’t get above 32 degrees until Monday. The only explanation has been another word-salad buffet from the mayor’s press office. Shameful.

The first concepts are coming into view about VCU’s 42-acre athletic village across from what will become the Diamond District development. This area is exploding!

At least eight to 10 very old and huge trees (some close to 100 years old) in Mosby Court were razed to the ground this week. Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority said that the trees were being cut “as part of a curb appeal improvement request that came from the City of Richmond to RRHA for several of our public housing sites.” The Mayor’s Office replied that “The city requested RRHA to pick up trash and remove brush — not trees.” This has got to be a government operation. More breadsticks, please. Continue reading

Suggestions to Ease Virginia’s Housing Crisis without Additional State Money


by James C. Sherlock

The Richmond Times-Dispatch, on cue, wrote in an editorial the other day that more state money was needed to fund local housing.


But that is not the first place to look.

The governor wants to condition development aid to local communities on their reforming land-use policies to permit more construction.

I have a few ideas along that line.

Proffers, also known as conditional zoning, are a recognition that real estate developments have impacts on other properties and on services provided by the local jurisdiction. Fair enough.

The money for roads, sewers and schools has to come from somewhere. Proffers make the developers and their customers pay for a share of capital improvements deemed necessary by city/county planners.

Wielded unpredictably, and sometimes unethically, they are also part of the problem. See the excellent article Politics and Proffers by Matt Ahern for the games played with proffers and their cost to the housing economy.

Then there is low-cost housing.

The Commonwealth by law permits but does not require localities to waive fees for low-cost housing. That law, originally and curiously restricted to only non-profit developers, was updated in 2019 to permit the same waivers to for-profit builders.

Send state housing funds only to jurisdictions that do so. Require in law a limit to the costs of proffers for low-cost housing.

Finally, tax Virginia’s astonishingly profitable non-profit hospitals to help them with their mission of caring for the disadvantaged — in this case in low-cost housing. Continue reading

Do Slumlords Contribute to Violent Crime?

This map shows the correlation between rates of violence in the City of Richmond and tax delinquency by corporate landlords.

by James A. Bacon

In the previous post, I argued that the underlying cause of violence in the City of Richmond is social breakdown stemming from erosion of the family structure and the resultant failure to teach children the skills they need to avoid and resolve conflicts.

In the great philosophical debate over the extent to which individuals and communities have agency over their own fates and the degree to which they are victims of outside forces, I stand on the side of individual agency. By contrast, Samuel J. West, an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University, belongs in the structuralist camp.

During his post-doctoral research at Virginia Commonwealth University, West led a research team that uncovered a link between urban violence and slumlords who failed to maintain their properties. Their findings were published by PLOS One in the article, “Comparing forms of neighborhood instability as predictors of violence in Richmond, VA.

“It is not the residents of high-violence neighborhoods that have constructed a disorganized environment conducive to antisocial behaviors,” the study says, “but those who hold power over the structural features of these neighborhoods, despite not residing within them.” Continue reading

Culture Wars + Unearned Income Equality = Political Realignment

by James A. Bacon

If you want to understand the political realignment taking place in the United States — and Virginia, of course — you need to read this column in The Wall Street Journal: “Income Equality, Not Inequality, Is the Problem.”

Most commentary on income inequality in the U.S. focuses on income reported to the Internal Revenue Service. It does not adjust for income taxes, welfare benefits, or household size. Once those adjustments are made, Phil Gramm and John Early contend, income differences between Americans in the bottom income quintile and the second from bottom disappear. Indeed, bottom-quintile households make slightly more disposable income than second-quintile households, and almost as much as middle-quintile households.

Actually, the situation is probably worse than Gramm and Early portray. Their adjustments include only “income transfers” — they apparently do not include a vast array of means-tested benefits like those we see in Virginia: electricity rebates for the poor, eviction moratoria, free transit fares, and college scholarships and loans. Nor do they include black market income, which some economists estimate to account for 10% of the economy.

As the sub-head of the article summarizes the picture: “Those in the middle work much harder, but don’t earn much more, than those at the bottom.” Continue reading

Interview with Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources on Petersburg Health – Part 1

John Littel, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources

by James C. Sherlock

I have written about the initiatives of the Youngkin Administration to help Petersburg improve the economic situation and quality of life in that city.

Petersburg is last in education of children, last in health outcomes and factors, last in public safety. It is an economic basket case.

The Youngkin administration and the Attorney General are focusing on mitigating the worst case — Petersburg.

They will support the efforts of the mayor, government, non-profits, and industry — including business and the citizens of Petersburg — the way it must be to succeed.

I have applauded the governor’s initiative as both right and brave. These are now what Teddy Roosevelt called “men (and now women) in the arena.” An arena that they created on Monday.

John Littel, the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources, is in the center of that arena. He knows well where the problems lie.  He knows what has been tried and failed to mitigate them.  He granted me an interview.  

He answered a tough question that I will discuss today. Continue reading