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Video: More Craziness in Fairfax County as "Family Life Education" Curriculum Debated, Voted On

by: lowkell

Fri Jun 26, 2015 at 08:11:38 AM EDT

Another fun night at the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board Thursday night, this time as the Board debated "Family Life Education" (FLE) curriculum changes. As with the May 7 School Board meeting on transgender protections, it appears that many of the same organized, right-wing, anti-LGBT folks came out to (loudly) express their point of view. See video from the meeting to the right, and let your jaw drop as you listen to some of this insanity, bigotry, ignorance, fearmongering, etc. Fortunately, as Josh Israel reports, it all turned out well in the end:
Thrilled to report that the Fairfax County School Board voted 10-2 to add age-appropriate, science-based Family Life Education curriculum changes that include the vital message that there are LGBT people in the world and that that is okay. Thanks to them, LGBT kids, questioning kids, and kids from atraditional families will be safer and our community will be stronger.
As for the video, a few highlights include strong presentations in support of Family Life Education from 43:37 to 52:07 and from 59:19 to 1:05:40); craziness starting at 52:28 (by Laura Hanford, who claims "this vote is not about bullying or hatred," that there's been "outright deceit" on this by the School Board, and that the curriculum presented is "so extreme on gender and sexaulity that it offended families and people of faith all over the county"); continuing at 56:00 (by Thomas Valentine, who complains about "radical policy changes," falsely compares being transgender identity to anorexoia and that it's a mental illness, and claims this is all about "ideologues who want to force their beliefs onto the children of the county"); predictable craziness from long-time anti-LGBT activist Steven Hunt starting at 1:05:55, from a representative from the "Traditional Values Coalition" starting at 1:09:28, and from 1:12:58 (absurdly claims that protecting LGBT students constitutes discrimination against people of faith). Then there are the bat**** crazy videos -- oh my god, the videos (starting at 1:16:34). It's hard to even know what to say about a lot of this stuff, including the 15-year-old boy reciting the Boy Scout's oath; the guy who says "mankind cannot change sex chromosomes," that transgender identity is a dangerous "belief," and then goes all "violate Godwin's Law" on us by managing to mention Sodom and Gomorrah, Nazi Germany and Martin Niemöller's "First they came for..." quote); etc. Craaazy.

Finally there's the debate itself, with the crowd getting more and more upset, and with the Board majority (other than the two right wingnuts on the Board) struggling to figure out some sort of way to move forward. I hear that they were in disarray leading up to the meeting, but finally came together just minutes before the meeting started. Of course, nothing the Board majority could ever do on this topic would have satisfied the anti-LGBT activists in the crowd, even though the fact is that parents can opt their children out of FLE if they feel strongly about it. So what's the problem then? Why do these people want to tell every other parent what to do, when they already have the right to do what they want with their own kids? Hmmmm.

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Virginia AG Mark Herring: "Sweet Briar College will stay open"

by: lowkell

Sat Jun 20, 2015 at 18:58:49 PM EDT

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Empty Room for Fairfax Public Schools BUDGET Meeting vs. Packed Room for Transgender Policy Debate

by: lowkell

Fri May 15, 2015 at 12:12:23 PM EDT

So, what happpened to the hordes of people who showed up (and exhibited such tremendous, er, passion) for the Fairfax County School Board debate the other day over which bathrooms transgender students should use? The Fairfax County School Board budget isn't as interesting, or more to the point as important to their kids' futures? In fact, the latter is infinitely more important to their kids' futures than the former, yet there were probably 200 times the number of people present for the former than the latter. You think people's priorities are a bit skewed, or what?!?

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Atif Qarni Demonstrates Why We Badly Need a Teacher in the Virginia State Senate

by: lowkell

Mon Apr 20, 2015 at 11:04:53 AM EDT

The following post, by Prince William County math teacher (and U.S. Marine Corps veteran) Atif Qarni, lays out some important challenges Virginia faces when it comes to education, as well as what we need to do about it. That includes: 1) reducing overcrowded classrooms; 2) "rethink our curriculum and how we evaluate it"; 3) "put an end to our toxic testing environment"; 4) stop the "attacks on public education in favor of charter schools and school voucher programs"; and 5) "invest on the front end and support a quality education for all." I couldn't agree more with all of this, and would just add that it demonstrates why we badly need a super-smart teacher like Atif Qarni in the Virginia State Senate!

During my time in the Marines, I was taught about how important it is to set high standards for yourself. We should be taking that lesson to heart when it comes to our education standards in the Commonwealth. We need some significant reforms so that we can live up to the promise teachers at my school make to our students: if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything you want. It's time to lower classroom sizes, update our curriculum, and stop the emphasis on testing.

Our classrooms are too crowded.  It's bad for students to try and learn in classrooms of 35 and 36, which is what middle school math class sizes are in my school.  If we want kids to learn topics well and to think and solve problems for themselves, not just do well on tests, we need to give them a chance in classes that are smaller.

We also need to rethink our curriculum and how we evaluate it. Current Standards of Learning are not updated enough to test what a student should know as they move on with their education. We should be focusing heavily on increasing our students' ability to compete in a global economy. That starts with updated standards of math, science, and technology.

We need put and end to our toxic testing environment. We test our kids on these outdated standards too aggressively. This excessive testing drives our kids to physical illness on testing days. Kids face anxiety and symptoms of depression during testing season. Is this the way to show them the importance of education? Or are we instead driving them out of the classroom and away from wanting to learn. As a parent as well as a teacher, seeing the impact of these tests is heartbreaking. Some kids just don't learn the same way others do, and that's ok. Testing should not punish them for that.

Attacks on public education in favor of charter schools and school voucher programs are to blame for these problems, but it's not too late. For those that want or need it, public schools should be there to provide them a high quality education. A first class education should be the right of all, not the privilege of a select few, and that is what we face if we don't fix our system. Virginia consistently ranks well below the US average in state spending for public education, but above the US average for corrections spending. I think it's time we invest on the front end and support a quality education for all.

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Video: Courageous, Passionate Speech by Fairfax County School Board Member Ryan McElveen

by: lowkell

Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 07:20:50 AM EDT

This is amazing, I strongly recommend that everyone watch the entire speech. Fortunately, there are a LOT of people out here, myself included, who greatly respect honest, hard-working public servants like Mr. McElveen, not to mention some of the most valuable members of our society - people who work to educate the next generation. All of these people - the school board members, the teachers, the bus drivers, the cafeteria workers - deserve to be paid, and respected, commensurate, with the great value they provide. Here are excerpts:
Tonight's discussion is our own localized version of a vibrant, ongoing, global, philosphical debate, to which noone around the world really has found a definitive much should citizens pay their leaders...A vast majority of studies by that higher public official salaries will bring better and more talented candidates into politics, just like higher salaries would do for all education professionals...As everyone knows, our decision tonight unfortunately combines two of the things  most demonized in American public discourse today. Number one elected officials. And more importantly for our purposes, public education...

Put simply, there's a lack of respect for what we do as educators, and an even greater lack of respect for what we do as education public officials. The fact that we have had more people sign up to testify to protest potential school board raises tonight than showed up to testify before the Board of Supervisors to support our school system budget is emblematic of this critical American paradox...What you're witnessing tonight is not just disrespect of school board members, it is disrespect of public education and all of us who engage in that work...It is important to remember that respect starts at the top...

The current climate of disrespect of our school system and of public education is not cool with me. If we continue to be viewed as second-class citizens by society, and more importantly by the Board of Supervisors that supposedly is there to support us, that's to noone's advantage...That lack of respect is consistently transferred to our employees in the form of inadequate funding to use for their compensation increases...We should all be in this together to fight for the respect of public education...

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Kevin Sullivan's Been Campaigning for Joe Morrissey's Seat

by: Dan Sullivan

Sun Dec 14, 2014 at 20:35:43 PM EST

There's actually been a Democrat campaigning for Delegate Joe Morrissey's seat in the 74th District since July. Meet Kevin Sullivan from James City County, a proud union man and former Political Coordinator for Teamsters Joint Council 83, Labor Liaison for Attorney-General Mark Herring, and President of the Charles City Ruritan.

This is Kevin at the annual Mathews Democratic Crab Steam last August, so that's the pounding in the background. He has been pounding the pavement because he wants to represent the interests of blue collar workers in Richmond.

There are not enough people in government who have punched a time clock or carried their lunch in a bag or lived paycheck to paycheck. That's what I want becoming a legislator. I want to represent regular people.

His platform emphasizes Medicaid expansion, education, worker protection, and legislative ethics. He has pledged not to accept the state health coverage provided to Delegates until the Medicaid coverage gap is closed. Educational innovation, technical training opportunities, the cost of higher education, and student loan debt concern him. As a worker's voice in the legislature, he wants to focus on Workman's Compensation and worker misclassification. Saying there is too much "big money" in politics, he is trying to fund his campaign with small donations. In the legislature he would work to limit contributions and gifts to state officials.

At the time we met, Sullivan wanted the opportunity to face Morrissey in a primary. We'll see if that comes to pass.

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Video: U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan Addresses Students Regarding Sexual Assault

by: lowkell

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 17:00:49 PM EST

The publication of the Rolling Stone article, and the passionate reaction of our students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and community members, have caused many sleepless nights for those of us who care about UVA. The passionate reaction tells me this: the behavior depicted is not something we will accept as normal, and the actions by seven men as described in the story have betrayed us. We have a problem, and we are going to get after it.

The story has raised a number of questions in my mind, and I will make it my highest priority in the coming months to learn the answers. My team is going to spare no effort between now and the time classes reopen for the spring semester. We're going to address these questions.

And let me say emphatically that how we answer these questions is not about protecting the university's reputation, it's about doing the right thing. The reputation I care most about is the reputation for following the truth wherever it may lead. We will not be doing business as usual in the spring of 2015. We will fearlessly examine ourselves and our culture...and cooperate fully with the independent investigation that's underway....

UVA students and alumni are speaking up, loudly, and saying this will never be tolerated on our grounds. And yet at the same time it's been tough to hear from many alumni, some of them from decades ago, who recounted their own negative experience and wondered sadly if nothing has changed. If there is a subculture that hurts any UVA students or exploits any of our fellow Wahoos, we must find out where it hides out and root it out...UVA is too good a place to allow this evil to reside. We must make this school a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

Read the rest of President Sullivan's speech here.
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Appointment of UVA Independent Counsel

by: lowkell

Tue Nov 25, 2014 at 12:31:25 PM EST

From AG Mark Herring's office:


This morning, Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Hudson sent a letter to University of Virginia Board of Visitors Rector George Martin informing him that the firm of O'Melveny & Myers will serve as independent counsel to the Board regarding issues of sexual violence at the University of Virginia. The team is expected to include highly qualified and experienced attorneys including Walter DellingerDanielle Gray, and Apalla Chopra.


Below is a statement from Attorney General Mark Herring regarding the appointment of independent counsel:


"The University of Virginia community and all Virginians have been stunned by the horrific story Rolling Stone brought to light, as well as the apparent inadequacy of the University's response to this and other past reports of sexual violence. Charlottesville Police have been asked to handle any criminal investigations into this specific attack, but all other aspects of campus sexual violence, including how school officials handled this case, will be thoroughly and independently scrutinized. I have made it clear this will be an aggressive and consequential investigation and review. The safety of our students is too important to accept anything less than a full accounting of what happened and bold ideas to ensure that no student suffers the unimaginable trauma of sexual violence or the injustice of an inadequate institutional response." 

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McAuliffe Doesn't Need a Review for a JMU Leadership Shake-up

by: Dan Sullivan

Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 07:41:55 AM EDT

President Alger photo JMUPresident_zps26332b66.jpgThis morning the Governor will visit a farm just south of the James Madison University (JMU) campus. While farming best practices are admirable, the safety of students on campus, neglected by the JMU administration in Sarah Butters' sexual assault case, screams for immediate attention. President Alger deserves a wakeup call.

On Alger's campus a student may participate in a gang sexual assault of a fellow student, videotape it, publish it on the internet, be accused by the victim then escape any substantive punishment. Following the revelations about JMU's bumbling enforcement of its own sexual assault policies, the University President, Jonathan R. Alger, withdrew to his comfort zone: acting as his own lawyer rather than campus leader. What was his reaction to McAuliffe's formation of a task force to combat sexual violence at Virginia colleges?

"For all of us, this is a time to come together, to share best practices, to make clear that we all take this issue very seriously," said Jonathan R. Alger, president of James Madison University. He said the freshmen now gathering at the school in Harrisonburg are getting the message that they must not be bystanders to sexual assault. - Washington Post
Best practices? Seriously? The message?
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Sen. McEachin Writes to UVA Board of Visitors, Urges Them to Reject Proposed Limits on Speech

by: lowkell

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 17:17:51 PM EDT

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Video: Noah Simon Announces His Resignation to Arlington Dems, Gets Standing Ovation

by: lowkell

Wed Jul 02, 2014 at 22:02:19 PM EDT

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.

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Video: Arlington County Democratic Committee School Board Debate

by: lowkell

Thu May 08, 2014 at 06:07:22 AM EDT

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.

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Exclusive BV Interview: Arlington County School Board Candidate Greg Greeley

by: lowkell

Thu May 01, 2014 at 11:14:00 AM EDT

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.  

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School Board Candidate Barbara Kanninen Lists Her Top Priorities for Arlington County Schools

by: lowkell

Thu May 01, 2014 at 08:00:00 AM EDT

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.

Here are my priorities for our schools:

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Congress Can Control College Costs

by: MarkLevine

Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 09:36:20 AM EDT

(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.

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My Yeas, Nays, and Maybes: 2014 Virginia Education Legislation

by: Rachel Levy

Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 11:15:11 AM EST

( - promoted by lowkell)

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.

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Great Choice by Gov.-Elect McAuliffe: Anne Holton for Secretary of Education

by: lowkell

Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 11:16:10 AM EST

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."

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UVA Student Claps Back Against Misguided Daily Progress Editorial on Escalating Costs of AccessUVa

by: iamnotaloan

Tue Dec 17, 2013 at 09:46:51 AM EST

Earlier this month, the Daily Progress assessed that the University of Virginia (UVa) is “at the mercy of forces beyond its control” and that escalating costs of UVa’s financial aid program, AccessUVa, “cannot be sustained.”

Brendan Wynn, a student at the University who has been outspoken about the cuts to AccessUVa and one of the leaders of the Restore AccessUVa movement, has hit back with a letter to the editor, which was published over the weekend:

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.

Brendan Wynn, Charlottesville

Although dwindling state support has contributed to UVa’s budget crunch, this cut is ultimately a matter of institutional priorities. The President of the University, Teresa Sullivan, has launched a fundraising appeal, which ultimately deflects the institution’s responsibility to promote access and affordability onto the hands of students and alumni. This effort would amount to little more than plaster over the cracks.

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.

Wynn’s letter is on point -- Thomas Jefferson was ahead of his time when he designed the University to educate talented students regardless of their wealth. Considering that UVa already sits in the bottom 5% of colleges nationwide in access for low-income students, grant aid for students living in or near poverty must be more of a budget priority. The question that those who have cut financial aid have repeatedly failed to answer is why, if they had to cut somewhere, they chose to cut grant aid to students from the poorest families, those who do not have a safety net in the same way other students often do.

Cross-Posted at I AM NOT A LOAN

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Bob McDonnell: Four Years of Failure, Broken Promises (Part 5 - Education)

by: lowkell

Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 12:06:46 PM EST

Yesterday, I wrote about Bob McDonnell's 4 years of failure on health care. Today, I turn to Part 5 - Education. For this one, I'm going to focus almost exclusively on McDonnell's 2009 campaign promise to invest hundreds of millions of dollars more into Virginia public education.

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:

McDonnell's blueprint promises “a bold education proposal that will dramatically increase money for Virginia's teachers and students by $480 million a year.” Meanwhile, his budget plans also include “hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, including to child-care subsidies for low-income families and to health and parent-education programs for poor pregnant women.” Families who need social and support services to help their kids attend school and access curriculum won’t benefit from McDonnell’s cuts.

Furthermore, more than a fifth of McDonnell’s proposed bump will go to higher education. Part of the bump will also come from McDonnell’s mandate that districts spend 65% of their budgets on instruction. Other bits and pieces will likely come from double-dipping and cross-promoting of economic development as education spending.

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."

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Defending Against Republican Improvised Economic Devices

by: Dan Sullivan

Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 15:49:09 PM EST

 photo 120514Bobslefthand.jpgFor 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.

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