Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

Add an Extra 40 Days to the School Year? It Just Might Work.

Jason Kamras

by James A. Bacon

Jason Kamras has spent much of his time as superintendent of the City of Richmond school district blaming systemic racism for the system’s failure to educate thousands of inner-city school children, and most of his remedies call for more money — even though city schools spend significantly more per pupil than neighboring jurisdictions whose students perform far better. He has trumpeted one bad idea after another. But at long last, he is proposing an initiative that could be useful. I’m not being sarcastic here. I think it’s an idea that many school systems should explore.

In his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Kamras submits the usual requests for more pay — a 2% raise plus a 1.17% step increase for every employee — and he wants to use federal stimulus funds to address what the Richmond Times-Dispatch refers to without elaboration as students’ “socio-emotional issues.” That’s a new term in the leftist lexicon. I’m guessing it has something to do with the trauma of poverty and racism. I imagine that we’ll hear more about it in the future.

Then there’s this: Kamras wants $8 million to add 40 academic days to the school year — in effect, creating year-round school — for 5,000 “high needs” students. Continue reading

More Data on SW VA’s Breakout School Performance

by John Butcher

We have seen that the divisions in SW Virginia (“Region 7” in the VDOE system) formed their own organization, the Comprehensive Instructional Program (“CIP”), that brought nice improvements in student performance.

While we wait to see whether the Board of “Education” will punt on the 2021 SOL testing, I’ve been looking over the 2019 data (there being no tests in 2020). The data for Region 7 paint a lovely picture.

You may recall that, since undertaking the CIP, Region 7 has seen major improvements in the pass rates of its economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students.

Continue reading

Tufts Study Projects Major TCI Carbon Taxes

Abandoned Gas

An abandoned gasoline station in North Carolina that failed after that state raised its fuel taxes substantially higher than Virginia’s.

By Steve Haner

Monday the organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a carbon tax and rationing regime for Virginia motor fuels, will be announcing details of the underlying interstate compact, according to media reports.

The media in Virginia has been disinterested in the issue, but the debate is raging in New England. The Boston Globe set the stage with a story last week. While 12 states and the District of Columbia have been involved in the planning, there remains some suspense over which states will press forward. New Hampshire is already out, and some other governors have expressed concerns.  Continue reading

UVa Builds Scholarship Endowment to Half-Billion Dollars

by James A. Bacon

Over the past four years the University of Virginia has raised $500 million, enough to endow 350 undergraduate and graduate scholarships, President Jim Ryan informed the Board of Visitors Friday. He highlighted two programs in particular that share the goal of “fostering excellence and diversity of the student population, and ensuring their success.”

The University Achievement Awards, inaugurated during the presidency of John T. Casteen are given to Virginia students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and character while overcoming personal hardship. The Blue Ridge Scholars program, launched in 2014 with a $4 million gift from alumnus John Griffin, supports undergraduate students with exceptional academic promise and significant financial need.

The need for financial assistance has intensified over the years as UVa has aggressively increased tuition, fees, and charges for room and board. The annual cost of attendance (including books and modest personal expenses) runs around $34,000 for undergraduate Virginians and $69,000 for out-of-state students before financial aid is taken into account. Continue reading

Richmond Schools Discover that the Shutdown Magnifies Mental Illness

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras visiting a school in pre-COVID days. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The downside of the COVID-19 school lockdown has become fully apparent to Richmond Public School officials. Richmond schools are experiencing an “alarming surge” in mental health issues — depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation — among the district’s 21,000 students in depression, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The impact of social isolation, fear of the virus, and the deaths of loved ones is magnified, school officials say, among students who have already experienced extensive childhood trauma. “Experts” fear that an underfunded mental health system is not equipped to handle the situation.

As Robert Bolling, CEO of ChildSavers put it, the pandemic has added a new layer of trauma where trauma was already the most severe.

“We are dealing with children who had, by the time they turned 9 years old, experienced significant traumatic events in their lives” such as poverty, neglect, abuse, sexual assault or witnessing violence, Bolling said. “Toxic trauma happens when a kid experiences that four times in their lives. Our children average six.” Continue reading

Richmond’s Infamous Icon

Credit: National Geographic

By Peter Galuszka

Since 1890, the Robert E. Lee Monument has dominated Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue and has stood as a striking protector of the state’s long history of systemic racism.

True, other Confederate heroes such as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart also found a memorial spot on the Avenue but Lee has always been the main one. He has been a sentimental touchstone for romantics of the Lost Cause and of derision about people hurt by the system.

Now, Richmond and Virginia are paying a price for more than a century of refusing to own up to what it all really meant.

The famed National Geographic magazine has made a cover photo of the defaced Lee statue repurposed as a memorial to George Floyd, the Black man who was killed by police after he was arrested and handcuffed.

The Geographic was listing the top photos of 2020, a wild and depressing year that brought the coronavirus pandemic, riots in cities and the constant chaos of Donald Trump.

That’s not all. In October, The New York Times Magazine proclaimed that the defaced Lee monument was the most influential work of art since World War II. Continue reading

Governor Northam, If You Want to See Educational Equity in Schools, Visit Southwest Virginia

Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rate for economics, 2017-18. Source: Virginia Department of Education

by James A. Bacon

The Northam administration’s education equity initiative declares that “equity” will have been achieved when outcomes can no longer be predicted on the basis of race, gender, zip code, ability, socioeconomic status or languages spoken at home. The administration does not acknowledge it, but there is a region of Virginia that has largely achieved educational equity — the last place in Virginia that the anti-racist progressives running the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) would look. But the evidence is right there in its so-called “road map to equity,” “Navigating EdEquityVa.”

I am, of course, referring to far Southwest Virginia, which is, electorally speaking, the reddest region of the state — the religious, culturally conservative, gun-clinging, Trump-voting economic backwater of Appalachia.

In this post I replicate several maps taken from the EdEquity manifesto. The maps are tiny in the VDOE document, so they become blurred when I blow them up to a size where they can be interpreted. While the graphics are fuzzy, the conclusion is crystal clear. Students in Southwest Virginia school systems, among the poorest in the state, pass at higher rates than any other region of Virginia. That holds true not just for demographically dominant whites, but African Americans, Hispanics, the economically disadvantaged, English learners and students with disabilities. Continue reading

The Lies in “Hillbilly Elegy”

By Peter Galuszka

A 2016 memoir by J.D. Vance, a former Ohio resident, drew praise from conservatives for its laud of self-reliance and disciple and criticism from others for its long string of debunked clichés about people from the Central Appalachians.

The book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” was held up as being a great explainer as to why so many in the White lower classes voted for Trump.

Vance exalts the strength of self-discipline, family values and hard work. He complains that when he worked as a store clerk he resented it when people on welfare had cell phones but Vance couldn’t afford one. He ended up going to Yale Law School.

Vance also spends a lot of time complaining about his dysfunctional family including a nasty grandmother, a mother constantly stoned on alcohol and opioids and lots of divorce – in other words the “social rot” of the hillbilly lifestyle he so disdains.

His tie to Appalachia is a bit thin. He grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati but spent summers in Jackson in the mountains of East Kentucky.

Now director and child actor Ron Howard has made a feel-good movie from the book that stars Glenn Close and Amy Adams. It is getting lousy reviews. Continue reading

Let’s “Reimagine” Public Safety Built around Involved Fathers

Pastor Belinda Baugh addressing community residents in a “City of Hope” march in Petersburg: Fathers, your children need you! Photo credit: Belinda Baugh

by James A. Bacon

When you ask a group of politicians, activists and intellectuals to put together a plan to “reimagine” public safety, you get a report like the one just issued by a City of Richmond task force. It calls for measures such as routing many 9-1-1 calls to mental health and conflict-resolution professionals instead of the police, reallocating dollars from police to social services, connecting youth with community resources, and creating an Office of Restorative Justice and Community Safety.

More money. More programs. More jobs for bureaucrats and activists. It’s basically the same failing approach that inner cities have tried to address poverty and crime since the inauguration of the Great Society in the 1960s.

One wonders if the authors talked to anyone besides other politicians, activists and intellectuals… if, for example, they talked to people akin to those quoted in this Richmond Times-Dispatch article about Petersburg. Richmond is not Petersburg, of course, but the two cities are sociologically similar. They both have large populations of poor African-Americans concentrated in largely segregated neighborhoods. Petersburg has the highest per-capita murder rate of any jurisdiction in Virginia; Richmond has the third highest. Continue reading

Bad Student Loan Debt: $435 Billion and Counting

by James A. Bacon

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen said many years ago. With the passage of time and inflation, we might need to update the quote to “a hundred billion here, a hundred billion there…” But even by the debased standards of 2020, the $435 billion that the federal government likely will have to write off as bad student loan debt amounts to real  money.

The losses projected by the most authoritative study yet, reports the Wall Street Journal, are far steeper than prior government forecasts. Last year the Congressional Budget Office that the government would have to write off only $31.5 billion.

The problem has long been evident. “We make no attempt to evaluate the quality of the borrower, the ability to repay, the effectiveness of the loans,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO head who now heads the American Action Forum. Not surprisingly, borrowers with subprime credit scores are among the most likely to default. As with all government excesses, taxpayers will be stuck with the tab — unless the government just monetizes the bad debt and accelerates the nation’s headlong rush to Boomergeddon, the society-crushing collapse of federal finances when lenders finally conclude they will never be repaid.

Sooner or later there will be a reckoning for America’s — and Virginia’s — system of higher education. Even a nation as profligate as the United States — estimated 2020 budget deficit this year, $3.7 trillion, national debt $27 trillion — has to staunch the losses. The nation cannot afford to continue shoveling money into the abyss. Any meaningful reform, however, would be traumatic for the many higher-ed institutions whose business models are predicated on indiscriminate lending to students. Continue reading

What Works: Helping Students Complete their College Degrees

Image credit: Lumenlearning

by James A. Bacon

In Virginia, nearly 30% of students who enroll in community college or four-year college fail to complete their degrees within six years. There is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that it would be a good thing if more students completed their degrees and fewer dropped out of college after loading up on student-loan debt they can never repay. The question is, how do we improve the college completion rate.

Yesterday I highlighted analysis found in a study by Rachel Fulcher Dawson, Melissa S. Kearney, and James X. Sullivan, “Comprehensive Approaches to Increasing Student Completion in Higher Education,” that shed light on why students drop out of college. Today, as promised, I focus on eight programs they have identified that measured their results in raising the completion rate. These include:

The Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) was developed by the City University of New York (CUNY) in 2007. This program assigns full-time, low-income students to advisors with small caseloads to help them to transition to college life, navigate their college campus, plan a career path, and access additional supports if they fall off track. The program provides tuition waivers, a MetroCard, and free use of textbooks. The program achieved an 18 percentage point increase in degree completion, twice the graduation rate of a control group. But it was extremely expensive — $42,000 per student for a three-year program. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Government, Race, and Poverty

Whites need not apply. The initial draft of a Loudoun County Public Schools “student equity ambassador program” barred white students from admission to the program. The selection guidelines said specifically, “This opportunity is open to all Students of Color,” reports The Virginia Star. The guideline was deleted after whistleblowers called public attention to it, but the draft reveals the mindset of the Critical Race Theorists running Loudoun public schools. “Anti-racism” is transmogrifying into anti-white racism before our very eyes.

Your tax dollars not at work. Virginia’s unemployment insurance program ranks worsts in the country for processing claims that require staff review. The backlog has increased to more than 90,000 cases, reports The Virginia Mercury. Additionally, Virginia was the second-to-last state in the country to issue $300 weekly supplements authorized by President Trump. State officials attribute the delays in a decision early in the COVID-19 epidemic to prioritize helping people submit and complete applications that can be automatically validated using state payroll data; 86% of routine applications have received their first payment within three weeks, the fifth best in the nation.

Testing the guaranteed-minimum-wage theory. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has announced a pilot program to give $500 a month to 18 families over the next two years. Recipients will be randomly selected from families that no longer qualify for public benefits programs. The Robins Foundation, a local nonprofit, is splitting the $480,000 bill for the test with the city. “Poverty is symptom of centuries of injustice, not a result of personal failure. Richmond must lead the way in lifting hard-working families up,” Stoney said. “This is part of something much bigger: a national movement toward economic stability and the fight for a living wage.” The program will test the theory that families will use the extra money to improve their situations or avoid spiraling further into poverty. Let’s hope the city is keeping close track of the results to determine if the program works as designed.

— JAB

Energy “PIPP” Proposal Just the TIP of an Iceberg

The initial “PIPP” tax added to Dominion and APCo bills in 2021 may hide the full impact of the program.

By Steve Haner

As the State Corporation Commission prepares to set up Virginia’s first electricity cost shifting program, using a tax on all electric bills to provide discounts to low-income customers, advocates are already pushing to expand and enrich it.

An expert hired by an environmental group argues in testimony that the General Assembly erred when it capped electricity payments from poorer households at 6% of their monthly income if they did not have electric heat, and 10% if they did. Appalachian Voices’ expert wants the SCC to lower the rate to 5% and 8% respectively, greatly increasing the amount of revenue that must be extracted from other customers.  Continue reading

All Leader Saslaw Cares About: Is Dominion OK?

Senate Majority Leader Richard “Is Dominion okay with this?” Saslaw

By Steve Haner

Every now and then you can actually see the strings, see the puppet master that is Dominion Energy Virginia calling the shots at the Virginia General Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, provided a glimpse of its power during a floor debate Thursday.

Republican senators were in revolt. Two days after the House of Delegates had approved a plan to force all utility ratepayers to cover the unpaid bills and late fees for those who have fallen behind, the same language amendment was before the Senate for adoption.

“Once again, we have cast the ratepayers aside here in Virginia,” Senator Richard Stuart told his colleagues assembled in their spread formation at the Science Museum of Virginia. The average ratepayer is struggling to pay their own bill in this recession and did not sign up to pay the bills for those others who for whatever reason do not. “This is immoral. This is not right,” Stuart concluded. Continue reading

Dominion ❤ New Utility Bill Payment Plan

This time you get touched.

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia loves the General Assembly’s most recent proposal on how to deal with mounting unpaid utility bills in the COVID-19 recession. You might not.

The state’s dominant utility has activated its network of grassroots lobbyists (including company retirees and stockholders) to express their personal support to their hometown delegate and senator, in an email that a recipient shared:

Last week the Senate Finance and House Appropriation committees passed budget bills that included assistance to those utility customers who have experienced economic hardship due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All utilities have been impacted and the legislation recognizes that relief to those citizens most at risk will be different from one region and utility to the next. The direction adopted by both Chambers have been consistently supported by Dominion Energy…

As predicted more than once, the unpaid bills ultimately come to all utility consumers. The approach outlined in the new budget language is a variation on earlier themes, but the bottom line is unchanged.   Continue reading