With the fights over high-profile, controversial bills related to reproductive rights laws in the General Assembly last year, a number of other seismic bills slipped through the media coverage cracks. On the education front, a bill allowing for tax credits to be granted to individuals giving scholarship donations to private schools passed through relatively easily and is expected to pass state constitutional muster. What this means, ultimately, is that tax dollars normally received into the general fund for public education will now be diverted to private schools that have more discriminatory leeway. It is expected that this controversial policy will survive legal challenges.
Much has been made in the coverage of education issues nationally of the so-called “Education Reform” movement. It's taken many forms, from the carrot-stick approach of the Obama/Arne Duncan-favored “Race to the Top,” to a straight-up, market-based voucher program, such as the one passed in the state of Louisiana last year where the per pupil funding follows the pupil to any public or private school. All of these plans claim to have the student at the center of any reforms. Neither really gives much say to the teachers, or parents who want their students to have the best teachers rather than the smartest sounding business plan. In both cases, the less power the teacher has, the better. While vouchers place teachers at the whim of market forces while also allowing for taxpayer-funded vouchers to be spent on religious education (as the Virginia bill is expected to do and the Louisiana bill did to wacky extremes), “Race to the Top” has quietly imposed upon school systems a number of controversial classroom “innovations,” including more high-stakes testing (despite the President's own admonishment of “teaching to the test”), the expansion of privately-run charter schools (who are in turn given low oversight of their activities, and have proven to be no better, if not worse than public schools), online schools (many of which, while attractive to technophiles and pitched as good options for students who have an attention deficit, are ineffective at best), and merit pay programs that demand job instability for teachers in exchange for school funding.
The proposal was always a house of cards built on a foundation of sand:
The Administration proposal to privatize the retail sale of distilled spirits contains many assumptions. JLARC staff attempted to identify and validate the assumptions that are key to generating revenue under the proposal. However, some of the assumptions could not be quantified or validated, which could in turn either increase or decrease the estimates.
Translation: There's meat on the carcass to carve, but until it is properly skinned, we can't begin to tell how much, and once the cash cow is gone, the only source of milk is TAX REVENUE.
Further the McDonnell plan is a supply-sider's hallucination. The state will direct how the market will price and determine not only the entry fees but also the outcome of competition in terms of revenues; the demand side be damned. But JLARC does not fall in line with a number of the assumptions and calculations. There are too many to comment on them in detail but the highlights follow after the fold:
In this debate, Paul Goldman makes a few key points on ABC privatization that absolutely blow the idea out of the water: 1) it won't raise nearly as much revenue as the $250 million Virginia gets now; 2) this won't help transportation, as Bob McDonnell claims; 3) this will create "an oligopoly in the wholesale business" - very valuable licenses for some very politically connected people" - and actually hurt the free market for alcoholic beverages in Virginia. In response, Norm Leahy basically says we don't know the details of Bob McDonnell's proposal yet, so we don't know if Paul Goldman's claims are correct. Well, mayyyyyybe, but that raises an important question: after debating McDonnell's proposal for about a year now, why don't we know the details yet? What's Bob McDonnell hiding exactly? Very curious.
Everyone knows that safe drinking water is essential for life. It should go without saying. And yet the UN took a vote anyway. Not surprisingly there were no "No" votes. However while 122 nations voted yes, forty abstained, the US, Canada, UK and several European countries among the abstainers. Far be it from the later group to do or say anything to hurt the powerful water privateers and bottlers ripping off Americans and other countries by, in most cases, using our public water supplies to bottle water and sell it at a huge markup. I am, however, very disappointed in our White House over the vote. Our nation supposedly awaits another process in Geneva with the Human Rights Council (as if we have paid the Human Rights body much other than lip service during the past 9.5 years.) Talk is cheap.
It seems that Congressman Wolf, who just this once, makes sense, sent a letter to State Transportation Secretary, Sean Connaughton, which can be read here, urging reforms. The Congressman, expressed his strong opposition to the ever-increasing tolls on the Dulles Greenway. Calling the tolls essentially "highway robbery, Wolf called for action. Just what many of us have been saying. Wolf also said:
"The Greenway is perhaps the most expensive toll road per mile in the country. This is a quality of life issue for those people living along the Greenway or who use it on a daily basis."
Then we read something which is no surprise to NOVA drivers, but may floor those from the rest of the state:
Base tolls go as high as $4.50 per trip. Combined with the Dulles Toll Road, some drivers are paying $10.50 a day on tolls. Wolf says people who pay these maximum tolls are spending as much money to use the road as they would spend on a monthly car payment.