Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Mission Creep: Schools as Mental Health Providers

Header for the Fairfax County Public Schools request for proposal

by James A. Bacon

Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system, the state’s largest, is aggressively taking on a new role — mental health provider — under the rubric of Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

As monitors of children’s mental health, teachers and  school administrators will do double duty as social counselors and psychologists.

That expansive new mission is made clear in the controversy surrounding FCPS’s June signing of a $1.8 million contract with Panorama Education, a Boston-based data analytics firm, to provide a “universal screener for social and emotional learning.”

Through the Freedom of Information Act,  Parents Defending Education, acquired the contract and the Request for Proposal upon which it was based.

“FCPS is committed to provide social and emotional learning for all students across all of their classrooms throughout the school day,” states the “background” section of the RFP. “Currently, schools operate as the de facto mental health provider in communities throughout the U.S. As a result, it is essential that school staff are able to appropriately and proactively identify social-emotional barriers to students’ ability to access the academic curriculum.” (My bold) Continue reading

Cost, Reliability and the Zero-Carbon Grid

Dominion’s Scott Solar Facility.

by James A. Bacon

Kevin Hennessy, Dominion Energy’s senior director of state affairs, expresses confidence that the electric power company can meet the Northam administration’s goal of creating a zero-carbon electric grid in its service territory by 2045. It does take a leap of faith that electric batteries or some other energy storage system will make great strides in efficiency, he admits. Also, he caveats, it’s essential to continue generating nuclear power. Further, he acknowledges, costs and rates will go up. But the job can be done.

Ask Hennessy about gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s plan to accelerate the shift to a zero-carbon grid by 2035 — a decade earlier — and you get a very different response. The Dominion exec professes not to know much about the proposal, which appears in McAuliffe’s plan for fighting climate change, and did not address it directly. But he does observe that Dominion’s internal projections show consumption of natural gas through 2035 — even as solar and wind generation surge. Continue reading

Fairfax Schools Are “Data Mining” Students

Graphic credit: Asra Investigates

by James A. Bacon

Disturbed by a “spike” in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members across the country, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has called on the FBI to use its “authority and resources” to discourage and prosecute “the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel,” reports The Daily Caller.

Meanwhile, in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up department, it turns out that Garland’s daughter Rebecca is married to entrepreneur Xan Tanner, cofounder of Panorama Education, which has built a booming national business with school boards collecting data on students. So reports Asra Q. Nomani, vice president of strategy and investigations for Parents Defending Education, in her Substack column, “Asra Investigates.”

Not just any old kind of data. Panorama Education surveys students on such questions as, “How confident are you that students at your school can have honest conversations with each other about race?” Or “Do you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, aromantic / asexual, or questioning?”

It is precisely this kind of highlighting of “woke” issues regarding race and gender that has parents up in arms in the first place.

Garland, contends Nomani, has a conflict of interest. She writes: “Panorama Education will profit from Garland’s outrageous silencing of parents who are challenging its data mining of K-12 students.” Continue reading

Black Voter Monolith Looking Less Monolithic

Unidentified member of the Hampton Roads Black Caucus announces group’s support for Youngkin. First hint to Youngkin campaign: when someone announces their support, include their name! Second hint: Give us more than 20 seconds. Let them explain why they endorse you! 

by James A. Bacon

Last week Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin received the endorsement of the Hampton Roads Black Caucus (HRBC). It was the first time that the civil rights organization, which had endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe eight years ago, has backed a Republican for governor since it was founded in 2012, according to the Youngkin campaign.

The poll generated no local media interest other than a predictable story from Fox News, as well as a brief story on WTOP-TV.

Equally predictably, the McAuliffe campaign downplayed the significance. “I love it when the Youngkin team tweets HUGE NEWS about a Republican group endorsing their Republican candidate,” scoffed McAuliffe campaign spokeswoman Christina Freundlich. Continue reading

The New, Woke Approach to Saving the Bay

by James A. Bacon

The Chesapeake Bay Program, a partnership of nonprofits, academic institutions, and federal, state and local governments, is now officially woke. In a new directive, the Executive Council has declared that the program will view Bay restoration through the lens of climate change and social justice.

“We acknowledge the consequences of climate change for the Chesapeake Bay region include the disproportionate impacts on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in both urban areas and rural areas,” states the directive.

“Therefore, we commit to address the threats of climate change in all aspects of the partnership’s work to restore the Bay and its watershed. Partners will prioritize communities, working lands and habitats most vulnerable to every-increasing risks.”

It’s not clear what this will mean in practice. Is the Chesapeake Bay Program board merely genuflecting toward woke rhetoric, or will this new framework meaningfully alter priorities and the allocation of resources? We’ll have to wait and see. But the directive is a clear example of how environmentalist groups are increasingly viewing environmental issues through the lens of climate change and social justice. Continue reading

With a $14.5 Billion Endowment, Are UVa Leaders Accountable to Anyone But Themselves?

This graph shows how UVIMCO divvies up its $14.5 billion endowment from an investment perspective.

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia endowment racked up a breathtaking 49% investment return in the year ending June 30, 2021, bringing the total value of the university’s investments to $14.5 billion, reports the University of Virginia Investment Management Company (UVIMCO) in its 2020-21 annual report.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

On the one hand, powerful investment returns supports initiatives such as the recently announced allocation of $50 million dollars for merit-based scholarships and aid to needy undergraduate students. On the other hand, such spectacular financial performance — almost $5 billion in a single year — makes the university leadership less accountable to tuition-paying students and parents, to the Commonwealth of Virginia which funds millions in state support, and to alumni whose individual donations are paltry by comparison.

Come to think of it, I’m even agnostic on whether the $50 million in new scholarship money is a good thing or not. Continue reading

Parents Vs. the Political Class

Loudoun County parents pack a School Board meeting. Photo credit: Idiocracy News Media

by James A. Bacon

Who is sovereign in the United States — the people or the cultural elite and political class? Whose values should be reflected in the public schools — those of the people or those of the cultural elite and the political class?

That is the No. 1 question Virginia voters face in the gubernatorial race of 2021. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe made the issue crystal clear — and whose side he is on — when he said during the debate with Republican Glenn Youngkin: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

The answer begs the question. If not parents, who should tell schools what they should teach? Sure, public schools need bureaucrats who are expert in the process of devising standards, curricula, methods, and tests. Sure, teachers don’t need parents micromanaging them. But who, ultimately, do the bureaucrats and teachers answer to?

Normally, such a question would not get people exercised. But these are not normal times. A movement of the cultural elites, originating in academia with increasing support from the political class, is pushing to convert schools from centers of learning into incubators for sweeping social and cultural change.  Continue reading

More Fun and Fraud with Numbers

by James A. Bacon

Let me preface this post by stating unequivocally that eliminating Virginia’s personal income tax is a crazy idea — so crazy that no serious person has proposed it. The tax generates $16 billion a year in revenue, or 72.4% of Virginia’s General Fund expenditures. The loss of such a sum would be catastrophic to the Commonwealth’s ability to provide basic government services.

According to Politifact, Republican candidate for Governor Glenn Youngkin briefly contemplated eliminating the state income tax. There is nothing inherently wrong with examining the possibility of doing such a thing. After all, several states — Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Washington — manage to do swimmingly without a personal income tax. However, any review of the situation would reveal that the dislocations in government services engendered by a massive re-engineering of Virginia’s tax base and budget would not be practicable, much less beneficial.

That said, some claims made against the idea are absurd. A Democratic Party of Virginia website, cited in a recent column by Arthur G. Purves, makes the claim that “implementing Youngkin’s tax plan” of eliminating the income tax (which was never his plan) would cost 2.5 million Virginia jobs. Out of a total workforce of 4.3 million. In other words, eliminating a tax accounting for 3.3% of the state’s GDP would destroy the equivalent of 59% of the state’s jobs over 10 years. Continue reading

In Fairfax, Illegal-Alien Rights Trump Citizen Rights

by James A. Bacon

Apparently, protecting illegal aliens from U.S. immigration authorities is more important to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors than safeguarding the transparency of police blotters, which have been a mainstay of local media crime reporting and public information about crime in the community.

The Fairfax County Police Department has stopped publishing its weekly arrest blotter. Immigrant rights and civil liberty groups had been pushing for the change, arguing that the weekly compilations, which includes arrestees’ records and other details, could help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) target immigrants for deportation, reports the Associated Press.

Remarkably, Diane Burkley Alejandro, executive director of ACLU People Power, said she has no evidence that ICE is actually using the blotters to track down immigrants. Rather, she says, the information provides a “road map” that might allow ICE to locate them as it employs new data-mining tools.

Citizens can still obtain the arrest data, but only by filing a Freedom of Information Act request subject to a month-long response time and possible fees. Continue reading

Universities as Prestige Maximizers, and the Growing Disconnect with the Public

Yale University

by James A. Bacon

I have long observed that nonprofit colleges and universities, by virtue of being nonprofit, behave very differently than for-profit enterprises. Having weak systems for accountability, higher-ed institutions are captured by their internal constituencies whose interests they place of those of students and their families. Instead of endeavoring to maximize profits, as profit-seeking enterprises do, university leaders seek to maximize prestige compared to other institutions. The result is an endless “arms race” treadmill that misallocates billions of dollars across the industry.

Now comes some empirical support for my hypothesis from Peter Q. Blair and Kent Smetters, with Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania respectively, in a paper entitled, “Why don’t elite colleges expand supply?”

In a word, universities don’t expand supply because it increases institutional prestige to not do so. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Intolerable Behavior

Good neighbors. Janique Martinez and her family, who are Black, moved into a Virginia Beach cul-de-sac on Jessamine Court five years ago. Some time ago, “constant” banjo music began emanating from the house next door. Then in July, sounds of a monkey screeching came through a window every 15 to 30 seconds. The loud noise was a nuisance, but multiple visits by police to the neighbor brought only temporary respite. Then in September, Martinez said she started hearing the n-word. Virginia Beach officials say they can’t do anything more than they already have. But the community has rallied around the Martinez family. Last Friday about 25 people gathered on the street Friday chanting, “Spread love, not hate,” according to The Virginian-Pilot story. Apparently, the neighbors didn’t need indoctrination sessions under the guise of “training” to know racism when they see it, to stand up against it, and to show solidarity with their Black friends.

Bad neighbors. Chad Wolf, who served as acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under Donald Trump, writes today in The Daily Signal how he was targeted last year by protesters outside his house week after week. The “protest” played out the same way every day: the demonstrators would organize a quarter mile away, march through neighborhood streets, holding up traffic, then remain for an hour or more while shouting through loudspeakers. They never applied for a permit, which was required in the City of Alexandria. But there was a difference from the Martinez case. City Councilman John Chapman joined the protesters on several occasions. And so did some of Wolf’s neighbors.

— JAB

In Praise of School Resource Officers

Source: WWBT-TV.

by James A. Bacon

Last week a large fight broke out at Meadowbrook High School in Chesterfield County. Police were summoned, and the school shut down for the day. According to WWBT-TV, a video circulating on social media showed school resource officers (SROs) getting hit as “more than ten” students attacked one another in the hallway.

Some Virginia school districts are eliminating SROs, declaring their presence to be oppressive. One question: How would you feel if you were the student being protected in the photo above? Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffery Katz released the image of SRO Anthony Bowen using his body “to shield a young man from a mob attacking a student.” Bowen was struck several times in the process. Praising the officer for his selflessness, Katz said he remains committed to keeping Chesterfield school children safe. Continue reading

2020 Virginia Population Projections Were Close to the Mark

Absolute Percentage Difference Between 2020 Projections and Census Count. Source: StatChat

The Weldon Cooper for Public Service at the University of Virginia, in charge of the state’s demographic count, has given itself a pat on the back for its ten-year projection of 2020 Virginia population. The self congratulations are probably deserved.

Weldon Cooper’s projection was only 0.27% higher than the Census Count. The actual population increase was 7.4% between 2010 and 2020. Also, projections for 90% of Virginia’s localities fell within 5% of the actual count.

Making population projections is a tricky business. Check out Shonel Sen’s discussion on the StatChat blog to get an idea of the challenge. The projections are used by a wide variety of state agencies for planning purposes, so accurate forecasts are important.

— JAB

If You Thought Virginia Higher Ed Couldn’t Get Worse…. You’re Wrong

Traditional civics education, meet the new civics education.

by James A. Bacon

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) announced today that it has joined forces with dozens of higher education and student organizations in a “shared commitment” to make “democracy learning” a top priority for higher education.

In a SCHEV press release, this commitment is expressed in the most neutral and anodyne of terms. The Shared Commitment signatories, says the SCHEV statement, calls for “civic inquiry, practice in civil discourse and collaborative work on real-world public problems.”

“By thoughtfully incorporating civic learning into their academic and extracurricular programs, Virginia’s colleges and universities are equipping students with knowledge and skills that will benefit not only the students themselves, but their families and communities now and well into the future,” says SCHEV Director Peter Blake.

It sounds benign. Every thinking person would agree that all Virginians would benefit from learning how to be better-informed and more-engaged citizens. But is that what SCHEV and Virginia are signing up for? Or is the Shared Commitment just another tool for making “social justice” a core mission of Virginia’s colleges and universities? Will the result be a citizenry that is more capable of thinking independently and rigorously about public issues, or one that is more steeped in the “woke” pieties about race, class, and gender? Continue reading

Cardinal News Takes Flight

Dwayne Yancey

A new digital publication serving Southwest and Southside Virginia, Cardinal News, has launched today under the editorial direction of Dwayne Yancey, recently retired as editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times.

The inaugural edition opens with articles and editorials on Grayson County Wi-Fi, how redistricting affects western Virginia, and headlines from around the region.

In explaining its mission, the website states:

Southwest and Southside are two very different regions of the state but they share many things in common. Among them: They’re increasingly left behind in a state that’s dominated by the urban crescent from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads and they’re both faced with inventing new economies after traditional employers have declined. They’re also left behind by legacy news organizations that have cut their staffs deeply and no longer support in-depth reporting.

Continue reading