I join every other Arlington Democrat in wishing Arlington County School Board member Noah Simon all the best as he does what he needs to do for his family, and thanking him for his service to Arlington.
Here's some video of last night's School Board debate at the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) meeting. The candidates are Barbara Kanninen, Nancy Van Doren and Greg Greeley, all of whom I've interviewed extensive and all of whom I find highly impressive (including at last night's debate, where all three did an excellent job). As far as I can determine, no matter which one of these candidates wins next Saturday, Arlington will be in good hands. This is, frankly, the kind of problem we want to have!
With that, check out the video below in which the candidates respond to a question on bullying, and in the comments section for opening and closing statements plus responses to more questions.
Yesterday, I had the chance to interview Greg Greeley, one of three Democratic candidates for Arlington County School Board. The race is to succeed current School Board member Sally Baird, who is stepping down after two terms. Here's a summary of my hour-long talk with Greg Greeley.
1. Why did you decide to run for Arlington County School Board, and why now? Greeley: This run is the culmination of several years of increasing involvement in the Arlington County public schools, as a single father of two boys and a foster parent to other kids in recent years. This involvement opened his eyes to broader issues in the Arlington County public schools, including overcrowding and inadequate long-term planning for how much capacity will be needed in 5, 10 years. In Greeley's view, we know the "tide won't be going out for many years" in terms of enrollment - we're likely to grow from 23,000 students to 30,000 students in coming years - and we have to have a "multi-decade" "master plan" to deal with that. Greeley believes that having a seat on the board will allow him to work on "making sure that we do a good job of addressing school facilities." Why now? Part of it is that there's an opening, and part of it is that he's in a better position personally to do this right now. A year ago, he had three kids as a foster parent, and "there is no way I would have had the time to do this," but "my youngest foster boy is off to an adoptive family...exactly the kind of family he needs." In part because of that, Greeley says he's now in a position to run for School Board. In addition, Greeley's full-time job allows a lot of flexibility and stresses work/life balance. Later in the interview, Greeley responded to a question from me by stressing that he is really NOT a politician ("I'm a parent"), and that he's NOT running for School Board as any kind of stepping stone to other office.
2. How important is diversity on the Arlington County School Board? Some have said you're running as the "gay candidate" to replace Sally Baird, who is the only LGBT School Board member now and we'll be losing her. Any thoughts on that? Greeley: "I don't see that as a big issue. Certainly, I would proud to be the first gay man on the Board; that would be great. That's not why I'm running. There are so many other reasons to be running, so many other things important to the schools." Also, Greeley stressed that diverse experience - for instance, having a child who's gone through a Title 1 school - is more important than having another member of the LGBT community on the School Board.
3. What are some of the major issues facing the school system right now? Greeley: One big issue is how we work with our kids with special needs. For instance, Greeley's oldest son is an English language learner who wants to be an engineer. "I was really disappointed when I got his first class schedule...They really didn't discuss his plans with him, because they had him in remedial math and they had him in auto shop," which he didn't want to take. It took Greeley to come in and sit down with the counselors to get that changed, and more broadly to get the level of attention that should be automatic in the school system. That's not the way it should be.
On the "achievement gap," Greeley said it's a mixed bag right now in Arlington County. At some schools, there are good programs in place to address that. For instance, at Randolph Elementary School, the school system took used school computers, refurbished them, got them in the hands of kids who didn't have computers at home, and help the families get discounted internet access. That helped address the "digital divide," which contributes to the achievement gap, and is particularly important at Title 1 schools. Another example was a program to train parents who are new to the country and unfamiliar with how the school system works to teach them how to be a good, engaged parent in the Arlington County school system. There was also a club for Latino mothers that encouraged them to get involved - and made them feel welcome - in their kids' schools.
I last interviewed Barbara Kanninen in 2013 when she ran against James Lander for Arlington School Board. Instead of re-interviewing her, I asked Kanninen's campaign if they could send me a statement about her 2014 campaign (note that the election is May 15 and 17). I'm posting that below; also see the full 2013 interview on the "flip." Thanks.
P.S. I interviewed one of the other two candidates, Greg Greeley, earlier today, and will be posting that soon. I would be happy to talk to the third Democratic candidate, Nancy Van Doren, as well.
I am Barbara Kanninen and I am running for Arlington County School Board because I believe that together we can make Arlington Public Schools the best that they can be. I would be honored to have your vote.
Our schools are important to all of us, whether we are parents, teachers, homeowners, or simply citizens who want to live in a community that values education. I have long been engaged in local Democratic activism, so I have made "pounding the pavement" a centerpiece of my campaign. As I've canvassed all of Arlington's 52 precincts these last few months, I have met many of you, as well as your neighbors. It has been invaluable to hear your thoughts and concerns about Arlington's schools.
We're facing complicated issues that span many dimensions-from budgeting and capacity planning to optimizing classroom instruction-and I bring an equally expansive set of experiences to the table. I have volunteered in schools and worked with children in Arlington and DC for over 20 years. I have served on School Board and County Board advisory committees, and I'm a professional economist, children's book author, and long-time Democratic activist. These experiences have given me hundreds of hours with kids and teachers in classrooms, a deep familiarity with budgets and data analysis, and a history of working at the community level on grassroots organizing and engagement.
It is certainly clear that we, collectively, have the energy, the brains, and the will to do great things for our kids and our community. I'm excited about the possibilities.
(I am promoting this because I think it's an intriguing idea. I welcome op-eds by other 8th CD Democratic candidates on important issues facing our district (and America) today, and will promote those that I think deserve to be shared more widely. This is one of those. Thanks. - promoted by lowkell)
The millennials may be the first generation in American history to be worse off than their parents. Despite ever-growing improvements in technology and worker productivity, increasing numbers of college graduates in their 20's and 30's are returning home to live with mom and dad. They are drowning in a sea of red ink. The problem, of course, is college affordability.
Although the surest ticket out of poverty remains higher education, higher education itself is placing too many Americans back in poverty. In the last 30 years, the cost of a college education has astoundingly almost tripled even after taking account of inflation. Meanwhile the public subsidy to students has remained stagnant. That means, after taking account of inflation, subsidies to students have been cut in half. Do the math. When I went to college, the Government subsidized almost six times as much of college costs. No wonder today's generation is feeling the pain.
And it's not just tuition. Room and board are skyrocketing, as colleges use these items, plus fees, to pad their payments to administrators. And we have to be clear that's where the money is going. Why a college with the same number of students as 30 years ago needs twice the number of administrators to handle them now is beyond me.
To add insult to injury, the Federal Government profits off the backs of students by charging them an additional 3% to 6% more for student loans than we charge banks. That's a hiked rate of interest on an overcharged principal, amounting to an astonishing $21 billion a year the Government makes off of strapped and vulnerable individuals struggling to live the American Dream. Private industry charges even more.
The Virginia legislature is, once again, in session. Here is my take on various education-related bills.
1. SOL (Standards of Learning) Testing Reform Bill: Unfortunately, I can't locate the legislation for this bill (or bills--there are 11), but I couldn't be happier that this legislation is in the works and that it has such wide and bi-partisan support. It's not the end of what should be done to fix Virginia's accountability structure but it's a start. Among other changes, the bill would reduce the number of SOL tests from 34 to 26 and call for more authentic and higher quality assessments. Two caveats:
a. The Virginia Board of Education and some folks at Virginia's Department of Education are claiming that Virginia's newer SOL tests, for example the math ones, are already of higher quality:
Virginia's Board of Education has revised its tests so they are more reflective of what students need to know to attend college or begin an entry-level job, said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Education Department.
Many of the state's new online tests include "technology-enhanced items" that require students to think critically and solve problems. The more rigorous tests caused scores to drop around the state.
Greason applauded the work the state has been doing and said the legislature would build on those reforms and codify them.
From what I can tell, the new tests are the same old stuff with some added bells and whistles. The reading test is still a disaster, "technology-enhanced" test items does not a critical thinker make, and these tests are not more rigorous, but are rather more tricky. Merely having twenty-six SOL tests akin to the newer ones is not progress in my book.
Gov.-elect McAuliffe has really hit it out of the ballpark with this pick.
Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has chosen Anne Holton to be Virginia's next Secretary of Education.
Holton is listed as Director of Great Expectations, a program that "helps Virginia's foster youth complete high school, gain access to a community college education and transition successfully from the foster care system to living independently," according to its website.
I've had the chance to chat with Holton, who is married to U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, and to hear her speak. I've always found her to be extremely impressive - brilliant (Holton "earned an undergraduate degree in economics graduating magna cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1980. Three years later, she earned a law degree graduating cum laude from Harvard Law School."), personable, well-qualified for the job, you name it. Superb pick - congratulations to Anne Holton and best of luck in your new job! :)
UPDATE: I agree 100% with Mark Warner, who tweets, "Congrats to my good friend Anne Holton on her appt as Va Education Secretary! Excellent choice, top public servant."
As a University of Virginia student, I respectfully disagree with the editorial assessment that UVa is “at the mercy of forces beyond its control” and that escalating costs “cannot be sustained” (“AccessUVa: Scale back to give more,” The Daily Progress, Dec. 2). Although dwindling state support has contributed to UVa’s budget crunch, this cut is ultimately a matter of priorities.
As one of the wealthiest public institutions of higher education in the nation, the university — and not its donors — has an obligation to ensure that cost, including loan burden, is not a barrier to a high-quality education for talented students.
The truth is that out of an operational budget of $1.4 billion, the $6 million cost to maintain a no-loan policy for our lowest-income students amounts to a total of .05 percent.
The damaging cut will make it harder for many low-income students and students of color to obtain a college education at a school that already struggles to increase its socioeconomic diversity and ranks at the bottom 5 percent in terms of access for low-income students.
Mr. Jefferson was ahead of his time when he designed our university to educate talented students regardless of their wealth. Grant aid to students from families in or near poverty should be a budget priority here at UVa. The question that those who have cut financial aid have repeatedly failed to answer is this: Why, if they had to cut somewhere, do they chose to cut grant aid to students from the poorest families, who do not have a safety net like other students do?
This was not a matter of financial inevitability, but a question of financial priorities. Jefferson had it right.
As part of the national Giving Tuesday movement, President Sullivan donated her recently-approved 2% salary increase to match every dollar raised for AccessUVa by the Young Alumni Council up to $10,000. While such personal commitment is a nice gesture, it falls far short from a meaningful institutional commitment. The fact remains that the University significantly scaled back its financial aid to the poorest of students, all in the name of saving $6 million – less than ½ of 1 percent – from the annual $1.4 billion budget.
So how did McDonnell do on this promise? Well, when Republican-friendly PolitiFact looked at this promise in November 2011, they found that there had been "no action yet," and that they would "let you know if McDonnell hits his 65 percent pledge" ("the average amount spent by all school divisions in the state on instructional costs"). Well, I checked their site, and they still haven't "let you know." Why not? Because apparently it's still in the "no action yet" column. #FAIL
More broadly, as this post points out, McDonnell's entire proposal to put $480 million more into Virginia's teachers and students turned out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors.
It's typical education budget double-speak. For example:
At the same time those in college and business benefit, kids struggling to make it through school lose out: K-12 public education will actually suffer cuts to support staff funding, putting a double-whammy on positions like teachers-aides. As salaries for such positions go down, qualified and motivated aides will have to find more or other work, and it will be difficult to attract equally strong candidates to those positions. Teachers aides absolutely make a difference in the lives of the children whom they serve because they more often act as students’ aides and advocates who know their clients better than teachers do and who form the kinds of selfless relationships with kids teachers struggle with because of their “authority” and responsibility to “discipline” children who act and learn outside the norm. So $480 million doesn’t buy those kids jack in their classrooms.
Meanwhile, as ProgressVA pointed out in January 2012, McDonnell actually bragged about having "cut billions of dollars out of the budget the last couple years in education and health care, so I think we're on the right track." As ProgressVA explained, "Since the beginning of the recession, Virginia has cut over $1.7 billion in education funding, the equivalent of 72,500 teacher salaries." That's not exactly a great record of accomplishment when it comes to education. Perhaps that's why, according to the National Education Association, Virginia ranks 30th in the country when it comes to the average salaries of teachers compared to the national average. On a slightly more positive note, as the Daily Press reports, McDonnell did manage earlier this year to "[push] through a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and support staff - their first in five years." A 2% raise in 5 years? That works out to a "whopping" 0.4% per year. Hey, don't spend it all in one place. Ugh.
P.S. The Roanoke Times called McDonnell's plan to give schools letter grades "a dumb idea," writing that "parents whose children attend those schools won't learn a thing from such a dumbed-down label." Also, as the Washington Post reports: "on some signature issues, [McDonnell] fell short of his promise to transform public education, reformers said. His initial attempt to make it easier to fire teachers was defeated, and his plan for performance-based pay was only partially funded. Statewide, there still are only four charter schools." And "after Virginia came in 31st out of 41 states in the first round, [McDonnell] pulled out of the running [for "Race to the Top" money], citing excessive 'federal mandates' and state standards that were 'much superior' to proposed national standards." And McDonnell's proposal "giving the state Board of Education authority to approve charter applications, shifting that exclusive power from local school boards...failed, as did efforts to amend the state constitution to make it easier for other governing bodies to oversee local schools." The key word that keeps coming up with McDonnell: "fail."
For three years we have heard that Virginia is enjoying budget surpluses. All the while, a series of gimmicks have been employed that will unravel during the years to come; some immediate, some long term. Terry McAuliffe would be well advised to determine baselines that provide context for funding obligations.
Ken Cuccinelli was right when he claimed that taxes would increase during a McAuliffe administration; what he failed to point out was that they also had consistently increased during the current administration and would under his own. The difference will be that Governor McDonnell was allowed to borrow against the future and underfund capital requirements, in effect levying the tax on his successors and generations to come. Cuccinelli would have done much more of the same. Such maneuvers by the coming McAuliffe administration will not be met with the deafening silence afforded the current administration.
Maintaining the Illusion of Surpluses
The Virginia Retirement System (VRS) "loan" amortization, the legislatively mandated 20% annual contribution deficiency, and total unfunded pension obligations
Education infrastructure maintenance, capitalization and re-capitalization underfunding
Transportation infrastructure maintenance, capitalization and re-capitalization underfunding
Positive growth of revenue streams; particularly from areas such as agricultural production where weather and markets are beyond the influence of state government but have had a good run
Terry McAuliffe should conduct an audit early on so that the inevitable future claims of fiscal malfeasance can be placed in context when the bills come due. This one must be much more honest than the audit by McDonnell's team which made claims like turning up over $100 million that had been "mismanaged" by the Department of Transportation during the Kaine administration (conversely, McAuliffe should make certain that operating funds and reserves have not been drawn down). No, this audit should nail down underfunded and unfunded obligations that are currently, to a great extent, off the books. Some will come due during the next four years; some will continue to grow otherwise unacknowledged until they explode with consequences similar to the Detroit pension crisis.
(To this point, Ken Cuccinelli has put out tax and education proposals that would massively DEFUND public education in Virginia - disastrous. In stark contrast, educators are strongly backing Terry McAuliffe, because they know he will fight to improve our public education system, not privatize it, outsource it, or parochialize it. Seriously, anyone who thinks that Ken Cuccinelli is a friend of public education is smoking some serious, serious stuff that would get you suspended from school for a long time! - promoted by lowkell)
Ad featuring teacher puts spotlight on Terry McAuliffe's vision for education in the Commonwealth
WASHINGTON-NEA and its independent-expenditure political action committee, The NEA Advocacy Fund, today launched a new television and digital ad in the competitive Virginia gubernatorial race. The ad, titled "Unique," shines a positive spotlight on the public education vision of gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, and the approach he would take if elected governor of the Commonwealth.
"Educators welcome Terry McAuliffe's vision for public schools, students and educators in Virginia," said Karen M. White, NEA Political Director. "His bold education plan would invest in and strengthen public education, create outstanding public schools with smaller class sizes, and turn the page on the current one-size-fits-all approach to educating Virginia students."
Kicking off the sprint to Election Day in Virginia is a 30-second spot called "Unique," in which a teacher talks about how each child is unique and how each student learns differently. Sitting in her classroom with students, the teacher, Precious Crabtree, a Virginia Education Association and NEA member, reminds voters of McAuliffe's commitment to create outstanding public schools. More than 50,000 NEA/VEA teachers like Ms. Crabtree and other school personnel are working for the betterment of public education in the Commonwealth. Out of respect for our fallen, the NEA Fund will not run the ad on September 11, 2013.
As the campaign to restore funding for AccessUVa (the University of Virginia's financial aid program) turns up the heat this week, I AM NOT A LOAN will be posting stories and comments from those who have benefited from the program directly. Today's story is by Eugene Resnick, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2010:
I am a 2010 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, and served as a College Representative on the Student Council in 2009-2010. I was an Echols Scholar and Distinguished Major having received a full 100% grant from AccessUVA. Without it, it would have been impossible to attend a university as expensive and prestigious as UVA without graduating with massive amounts of debt that would have haunted me and my family for a lifetime. I was one of the first classes of AccessUVA recipients.
It is thanks to AccessUVA grants that allowed me to pursue a UVA education, opened the door for me to study abroad in Denmark and India, intern abroad in Ireland, partake in multiple ASB trips to Ecuador and Peru, and so much more in the four years I spent in Charlottesville. It made me the person I am today and I am deeply disappointed by the Board of Governor's decision. I am shocked, and baffled to hear that the University is now going backwards when we made so much progress in the 2006-2010 period that I was there.
I thank AccessUVA and UVA in general for giving me the inspiration to pursue a Master's at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the London School of Economics, where I completed an MSc in 2011. I currently still live in London, working in communications and public relations for corporate clients. All of this would not have been possible without AccessUVA. The Board of Visitors has clearly learned nothing and it is a shame to see what has happened to UVA since I graduated in 2010. I am deeply disappointed especially as my main motivation for donating to the University was targeted towards helping others in AccessUVa.
-- Eugene Resnick, CLASS of 2010, AccessUVA Recipient, Echols Scholar
To show your support for students, please sign the petition telling the Board of Visitors to restore full funding for the AccessUVa program.
Clearly, Ken Cuccinelli's education plan would be a disaster. How bad a disaster? Check out this new report on the potential impacts; it's not a pretty picture, to put it mildly. For instance, under Ken Cuccinelli's plan: Arlington County schools could lose $4.6 million and 72 teachers; Fairfax County schools could lose $50 million and 778 teachers; Virginia Beach schools could lose $29 million and 449 teachers; Prince William County schools could lose $38 million and 595 teachers; Loudoun County schools could lose $22 million and 343 teachers; Henrico County schools could lose $21 million and 323 teachers; Richmond City schools could lose $11 million and 165 teachers; and Roanoke City schools could lose $6 million and 98 teachers. Yikes.
You could not find someone more supportive teachers than I. I have been one, having taught at the pre-school, high school and college levels. My husband taught for over four decades. So I have immense respect for what teachers do, how hard most of them work, compassion for those who lose ground in endless school cutbacks, and anger at the endless mind-numbing demand do "do more with less." After years and years of cuts, you cannot continue to do more with less. You especially cannot do more with less when public schools are under attack for annihilation by the likes of Bill Gates, Jeb Bush, Michele Rhee, Tony Tata and other privateers who are feeding the 1% ambition to gobble up our entire infrastructure and take over any value of a system the US taxpayers paid for. I support education with every single vote I make. I have never voted against a school bond, ever, which is probably more than some VEA members can say. I have long supported unions as well.
However, when it comes to elections, candidate choice matters. So why on earth would the VEA electioneer against its members' interests? How else to describe the completely nuts Virginia Education Association (VEA) endorsements of delegates who will never be on their side. No matter Joseph Yost's claims to the contrary, he will never be VEA's or teachers' actual supporters. His first election with no real qualifications for running, was bad enough. To endorse his reelection, well, that is in a class by itself. I submit that, in their endorsement of Joseph Yost and Nick Rush, cowardice, insanity, or utter stupidity occurred. I think the VEA was afraid to endorse the Democratic challengers in these races because they were assuming inevitability of the two un-friends of the 99%.
(Of course, I'd point out to my friend Paul that Ken Cuccinelli would decimate public school (and health care, etc.) funding in Virginia and severely harm Latino/White/Black kids education, health, etc. - promoted by lowkell)
By Paul Goldman
[Of course, my friend Lowell doesn't mention the "bipartisan transportation package" took $2-3 Billion originally available for K-12 education and now requires it to be spent for roads. It is easy to go with the "money", choose real estate developers over poor kids. So in 2013 parlance, you can either take the Paul Goldman approach for helping poor kids be all they can be or the Boyd Marcus approach, it is your choice. Throwing stones is easy, as some Jewish guy pointed out 2000 years ago. But the record is clear as to which approach has actually meant progress for people in this state, there are any number of books which have examined the record on that score, if there is any doubt.] In a new study - actually, it isn't a new study in terms of when it was done, but "new" in terms of it first being read closely by me last night after speaking with the author - the leading expert in the country shows that kids going to aging school facilities ARE DEFINITELY hurt in terms of both education and HEALTH due to their going to these obsolete, out of date K-12 school buildings. Ironically, the leading expert in this field teaches at Virginia Tech University! That's right, here in the Commonwealth, another of our unused assets, a brilliant mind waiting to have insights used to benefit all of us.
The Professor's name is Glen Earthman. I talked with him on the telephone yesterday; nice guy, friendly, and smart. He did a big study for the Maryland Task Force on School Facilities that is available online. So are various other studies he references and also some doctoral stuff done by Virginia Tech students on the issue.
Bottom line: The statistical evidence is clear, there is a definite connection - not for all students of course but for most of us normative types - between he condition of a school building in key areas and both the education performance and health of children, especially those vulnerable to such things.
Virginia has many of these old and aging schools, and schools in deteriorating conditions. They are everywhere, rich areas, poor areas, middle class areas although they are more prevalent of course in some rather than other such circumstances.
BUT BOTTOM LINE: With test scores falling in many places like Richmond, indeed with only 1 in 4 students tested ready for college as required(!), everything that is contributing to poor student performance needs at least to be understood and reflected upon. The correlation between old buildings, health and education - and a kid in bad health is not likely to be able to learn as required - is not only clear, but it is clear in so many ways that are obvious but yet we miss them very often.
For almost a decade, the University of Virginia (UVA) had been a leader in college access for low-income students with its program. This program enabled students who have the brains, but not the bucks, to attend the institution without having to rely on hefty student loans.
The next Board of Visitors meeting is scheduled for September 19th, giving us little over a month to raise our voices and let UVA know that they are making a HUGE mistake by decreasing funding for this groundbreaking program.
With an endowment of over $5 billion, UVA should not be deferring thousands of bright, prospective students from attending because of student debt.
As Chelsea Pierson, a UVA graduate, stated in the comments section of the petition urging the Board of Vistors to restore funding to the program:
Had AccessUVa not provided a full grant scholarship for me, I would not have been able to attend UVa. Without it, I would not be about to embark on a journey, teaching in abroad in the UK. I would never have been able to afford an education had this program not made it possible. Please don't keep others from changing the world. This program made it possible for me. Cutting the AccessUVa program will make it IMPOSSIBLE for many.
Anything else you need to know about Cuckoo's crazy "education plan?" I mean, seriously, if EW Jackson likes it, you KNOW it's nuts!
Jackson Endorses Cuccinelli Education Plan
Constitutional Amendment is the Key to Parental Choice
For Immediate Release
August 19, 2013
Contact: Chip Tarbutton
CHESAPEAKE, VA - Republican nominee for Virginia Lieutenant Governor E.W. Jackson spoke out today in support of Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Ken Cuccinelli's Education Plan.
"Ken Cuccinelli's K-12 education plan is a much needed game changer in empowering parents with the means to ensure their children have the opportunity to receive a world-class education," Jackson said. "I am thrilled to see that parental choice is one of the cornerstones of Ken's educational reform plan. While all elements start a much needed conversation on how we can best help our children, the most crucial is Ken's proposal to amend the state Constitution to allow parents the ultimate choice of where their children are educated.
Here at 200-proof politics, we analyze the education proposal unveiled yesterday by GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli as a chess board move, not as a policy wonk. In that regard, we have been writing since last year that education would be the deciding issue in 2013 should either the Dem or GOP candidate "win" the issue. Moreover, I have maintained this posture even longer in several conversations with both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, along with others running for office at various levels of the game.
Admittedly the polls today show education to be of less concern to voters than at any time in the modern era. There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the polls on this matter, since they have all been consistent here. Thus I will have to concede the evidence suggests my view of the education issue isn't shared by the voters, much less the pundits. In most elections in the modern age, education showed up as the top state issue. But not today, by a long shot.
My reaction: A chorus from a Collin Raye song:
Well, that's my story.
I ain't got a witness, and I can't prove it,
but that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
Or, given that this is a column, perhaps Jimmy Buffet sang the better answer:
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it
That's my life and all that I've got
Call me a liar, call me a writer
Believe me or not
Believe me or not.
Either way, Buffet or Raye, the bottom line to me is the same: As purely a matter of chess board strategy, this was the first time the Cuccinelli campaign indicated to me they were ready for prime time. Here's why.
1. This is the first time they seemed to have a coordinated approach in terms of their TV ads, policy release statement and campaign events all around a major strategy play. A savvy Democratic strategy person pointed that out. She has an interesting insight when you noodle on it. To be sure, a "stopped clock" is right twice a day. But what if it was something else?
2. If Bob Lewis' story in the AP is basically indicative of the reaction - he is a top flight political reporter - it shows that the carefully staged and cleverly written Cuccinelli proposal could "get over" as they say. The Blaine Amendment repeal is iffy for sure, but if my Internet search is right, then North Carolina and Maryland DO NOT have Blaine Amendments. So the whole issue might not be all that important to swing voters here in 2013 given what is on their mind about other things.
3. The preamble to the Cuccinelli plan is something, by and large, I could have written for Wilder's and Warner's platforms, or Henry Howell's for that matter, it is something Tim Kaine would regularly say in a speech, go down the list. GUV candidate George Allen could have said it, probably did. It tells me Cuccinelli's campaign may be learning the art of political communication in Virginia.
4. The plan was backed up by arguably Cuccinelli's best TV ad to date, because it didn't have the same basic problems discussed in this space weeks ago. He spoke to camera, he looked more at ease, he didn't look anything like his caricature. This was pointed out to me by a savvy Democratic strategy person. She was right, his ad folks finally got it right.
5. THE ACTUAL SUBSTANCE is not really the key to the politics anyway unless, in the future, a particular part of the plan becomes an issue into itself. As I say: read the stories. Those opposed were the usual suspects in the anti-Cuccinelli camp. It is no different when the press trots out the same anti-McAuliffe folks. To the swing voters, it is yada, yada, yada.
6. If you analyze the history of campaigns for Governor, NO REPUBLICAN HAS LOST who "won" the education debate as a matter of politics. Indeed, the reason segregationist Miles Godwin is amazingly respected is his role in jamming through the General Assembly the state sales tax to fund K-12 education improvements in a state nationally known for ranking near the bottom of such support. This has trumped a solid record as a full-blown segregationist until his death. Starting with 1981, education has been a big issue (improving teacher salaries), 1993 (implementing statewide testing), 1997 (proposal to add 4,000 new teachers at state expense), 2001 (community colleges), 2005 (pre-K), and in my view, there really wasn't much of an education issue in 2009. All the guys who were seen as winning the education issue - Robb, Allen, Gilmore, Warner and Kaine - won. It has proven to be the best issue in most campaigns.
In that regard, let me therefore close by saying - as I have written repeatedly on this blog - that the 2013 McDonnell Transportation plan opened the door for Republicans running for statewide office to "win" the education issue. Indeed, the Democrats admitted this was true when initially opposing McDonnell's proposal, only to back the modified version even though it took $2 billion from education and gave it to road developers as DEMOCRATS HAVE ALWAYS MAINTAINED IN EVERY OTHER GUV RACE. Indeed, this was the reason Democrats initially opposed McDonnell's plan!
Again, I am not judging the merits of the 2013 transportation plan: only the politics. I am not judging the $2-#3 billion claim as to the merits, only pointing out this what Democrats said.
The point being: the litany of winning GUV campaigns on education above shows that having a new idea, at least in terms of a marque issue in a GUV race, tends to be the political strategy way to become the "education governor" for purposes of the campaign.
My bottom line: As a political play, Cuccinelli missed a chance for a big win on education, as has McAuliffe in my view, by not embracing the next Big Bipartisan Idea: The Warner-Kaine-Webb-Cantor-McDonnell tax credit proposal that would create 50,000 jobs in Virginia, saves localities billions in construction costs, and is based on private capital. It also reduces the federal government's reliance on debt!
There are many hundreds and hundreds of aging, obsolete schools that would qualify for a total modernization under the Warner-Kaine-Webb-Cantor-McDonnell plan, from the poorest rural counties to actually the older, poorer areas of Fairfax and all the suburban enclaves and central cities also. The NEA on the left has finally decided to back, so have conservative publications and groups on the right.
They published a joint piece in Politico on the issue, Kaine wrote a piece about his experiences with the issue for Style Weekly in Richmond. It is a NO BRAINER politically.
Thus Cuccinelli's education plan shows the campaign has a pulse, but there is still minimal brain activity. Still, the bottom line: If Cuccinelli's play yesterday indicates he is going to try and "win" the education issue, that should worry Democrats. I believe education is a sleeper issue this year. Terry's got some solid education stuff in his platform.
If there is going to be a positive discussion on anything this year, education might be it. I have no idea where Cuccinelli is going with his education play. He may go nowhere. But there is enough in his plan and rollout to suggest education might play a bigger role for him in the Fall than it has during the Winter, Spring and Summer.
The following guest post is from Kip Malinosky, a social studies teacher of 9 years in the Fairfax County public school system and someone who's highly knowledgeable about education policy. Here, he responds to Ken Cuccinelli's horrendous education plan (see graphic to the far right - appropriately enough - for the craziest part of that plan, basically undoing separation of church and state while defunding public education in Virginia). Also see Del. Rob Krupicka's demolition of the Cuccinelli plan (he gives it an overall grade of "D"). In sum, this plan is about as extreme and destructive as you'd expect from someone like Ken Cuccinelli....
Ken Cuccinelli's education plan deserves an "A" for the effort of putting together so many failed ideas in one place. Now his plan isn't all bad, it looks like he copied some good ideas from Terry McAuliffe's education plan, namely the commission to study reforming Virginia's Standards of Learning tests (the SOLs). Cuccinelli's proposals are based all around the concepts of competition and choice in and between schools. One of the champions of this educational philosophy, Diane Ravitch, did an abrupt U-turn on these ideas, when she saw them implemented with Bush's No Child Left Behind law. This is no time for Virginia to jump on a failing bandwagon. Let's get to a few of Cuccincelli's specific ideas.
Online Schools: Arizona has marched ahead of Virginia with offering online classes and entire schools. The results have not been pretty. A key quote, "Turnover of students is high, which indicates many students have failed to get traction in mastering their courses or maintaining their motivation." And the woes don't stop there, rigor in the online classes and standardized test scores have slipped. While Arizona leads the nation in online public schools it's educational achievement is below average.
Next we turn to the alchemy of charters schools, which of course Cuccinelli is proposing to increase. First there are some terrific charters schools out there, but in the aggregate their record barely rises to parity with public schools and this is certainly not a silver bullet solution. Michigan has numerous charters schools that are expanding, despite performing worse than the public schools. In Indiana, a public official lobbied to have his charter school's grade of "C" changed to an "A" to burnish his case for charters schools. This story shows the problem of perverse incentives posed both by charter schools and giving grades to a whole schools (another proposal by Cuccinelli). In New York City, charter schools showed essentially the same scores as public schools.
Parochial/Private Schools: Repealing the Blaine Amendment, to allow public funding of religious schools, takes up more text than any other of Cuccinelli's education proposals. It's a terrible idea. First, Virginia has some ugly history with the wide expansion of private schools known as "massive resistance" to Brown v Board of Education. Second, private schools almost always have students from wealthier backgrounds who will not need as much assistance from the state, especially because once the demographics are accounted for public schools perform better. Third the number of Virginia students in private schools has been declining. Finally repealing the Blaine amendment would not only be a violation of the spirit of the first amendment, but also Thomas Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom, in which he states, "no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever."
The good news is that Terry McAuliffe is very strong on education. His plan calls for truly reforming the SOLs, measuring student progress rather than only a single score at the end of the year and focusing much more on writing. McAuliffe wants to attract the best teachers by raising teacher pay and by letting teachers have the space to teach rather simply prepare for the next test. McAuliffe's focus on the individual student, creativity with writing, and greater autonomy for teachers bear a striking resemblance to Finland's amazing education system, which is consistently rated among the best in the world.
Rather than send Virginia's schools toward a vision, which even Jefferson would have found backward, let's move our schools forward into the 21st century building on the best ideas the world has to offer.
The Virginia Education Association (VEA) has thrown its support to three Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates in Northern Virginia. Delegate Mark Keam (35th), Marcus Simon who is vying to fill retiring Jim Scott's seat in the 53th, and Kathleen Murphy who is challenging Barbara Comstock in the 34th are among those receiving accolades.
The most significant of these is the race for the 34th District. The VEA is well known to support candidates who will work to strengthen public schools. Despite Comstock's claims of being Northern Virginia's "education candidate," the VEA has instead opted to side with her challenger.
Meg Gruber, president of the VEA, states the organization only supports candidates "...who show that they understand the value of public education and its vital role in the commonwealth." By voicing recommendation for Murphy, the VEA appears to dismiss Comstock's declarations of being a strong education advocate.
Perhaps this is because of her voting record. During Comstock's tenure, she has voted against teacher pay raises, against increased funding for public education, and supported efforts to increase teacher to pupil ratios in the classroom.
Kathleen Murphy has long touted the benefits of public education. Says Murphy, "Every child in Virginia deserves an education that will allow him or her to compete in the 21st century economy." Murphy continued, "I look forward to working with the Virginia Education Association to ensure our teachers have the necessary resources to educate our children."
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