Gains and Not So Much ...

Number-Crunching By Cranky

By John R. Butcher


have discussed the notion that divisions with high pass rates have little room for improvement while those with lower pass rates are shooting at larger targets.  VDOE’s (bogusaccreditation process seems to recognize this.  I suggested that a better measure of progress is the overall pass rate change divided by the previous year’s failure rate, in order to measure the relative change in the failure rate.  Today we have those data for the Richmond schools.  I’ve left out Amelia St. Sp. Ed., which had an enormous (51%) drop in the pass rate. To begin, the raw change in the five-subject average pass rates:

And then the pass rate change divided by the 2014 failure rate:
Here are the data.  Note that comparison of the high schools with the elementary and middle schools is biased this year by the new retest policy in grades 3-8 that boosted the pass rates by ca. 4%.

Accreditation and Not ...

[My friend and colleague John R.  --"Keep'em Honest" -- Butcher has an excellent posting on his  crankysblog site.  Check it out.] 

By John R. Butcher
February 3, 2016 by crankysblog

Note that one of the new schools is Elkhardt/Thompson; the relabeling converts Thompson’s earlier “Denied” rating into “New School.”  All told, 53% of the Richmond schools were warned or denied accreditation this year with two schools still TBD and another failed middle school, Thompson, hiding in the definitional weeds.
The keel of this sinking ship is the middle schools: King denied; Hill improving;  Binford, Brown, and Henderson reconstituted; Elkhardt/Thompson new and camouflaging the denied Thompson.  Only Franklin, which includes both middle and high school grades, is fully accredited.
Data are here.

Virginians Need to Stop Getting SLAPPed Around ...

The two bills -- HB1117 and SB577 -- arise from a legal nightmare that confronted four parents of Richmond Public School (RPS) students who were hit with a $3.5 million defamation lawsuit after they (and 50-plus other parents) collectively wrote and signed a letter that they sent to the Superintendent of RPS and to the members of the School Board. The letter detailed their concerns about the administrative actions of the principal at their children's middle school.

The $3.5 million defamation lawsuit is an example of a SLAPP lawsuit.  The principal filed suit against the parents without the knowledge of either the Superintendent or School Board members, but only named four of the 50-plus parents who signed the letter -- Wendy and Todd Martin, Anthony and Yvette Conte. Wendy Martin testified before the Courts and Justice subcommittee this past Monday:
This legislation is personal to me. In the summer of July 2013, my husband and I were among a group of 50 parents who wrote a letter to the Richmond Public Schools acting superintendent, outlining safety and educational problems at our daughter’s public middle school. RPS School Board member Kim Gray later referred to this letter as being “full of verifiable facts.” The school principal, in my opinion, was seeking revenge for our criticisms and an insurance payout among other things, sued us for defamation/malice AND $3.5 million dollars. A circuit court judge shut this lawsuit down. Yet the principal appealed it to the Virginia Supreme Court. They shut it down. So she filed a petition for rehearing. The Virginia Supreme Court denied that. What were the costs to my husband and me? 455 days of feeling like we had a gun to our heads, lots of sleepless nights, I gained 20 pounds from stress and we had legal fees that approached $40,000. All for exercising our First Amendment rights and advocating for better schools. I hope you agree that this is an outrage.
Martin was eloquent and prepared. She brought books to share with the legislators. She even quoted the public comments made by the late Dr. Bill Bosher, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Education at Virginia Commonwealth University about the lawsuit:
“The truth is we [public school educators] are public servants. Therefore, the public has the opportunity to critique when we're doing well and when they think we're not… The thing that most influences student achievement is parents being involved with their young people and when you want that to happen this [lawsuit] certainly could mute the enthusiasm."
I testified as a former member of the City of Richmond School Board [2002-2008] and as a print journalist who now blogs and freelances commentary pieces about education. I told the subcommittee about the importance of parental involvement in our public schools and how the SLAPP suit brought against the Martins and Contes has had a definite chilling effect on Richmond parents.

I shared that many parents have told me that as much as they wish to be a part of improving the quality of our schools for ALL children, that they absolutely refuse to risk of being sued for speaking on the record about their concerns for their child's education. Questions about whether they would write a letter to any school official about their concerns for their child's education are met with nervous laughter, rolled eyes and "are you crazy?!" looks.

Suffice to say, the subcommittee members seemed moved by our collective testimony. They added language that said that should a SLAPP lawsuit be filed and ultimately dismissed, that the court "may" award reasonable attorney fees to the defendants.

While I appreciate that we live in a litigious nation in which it seems anybody can sue anybody if they believe they have been injured, there is something especially galling about a lawsuit brought by a government official against citizens who dared to ask that official -- or agents of that official -- for "redress of grievances."

The right to petition, whether one stands before a public body or writes a letter concerning a public matter, allows citizens to focus government attention on unresolved ills; provide information to elected leaders about unpopular policies; expose misconduct, waste, corruption, and incompetence and to vent popular frustrations without endangering the public order.

And yet, what made it out of the House Courts and Justice Committee Wednesday essentially gutted HB1117. The only communication currently protected by this bill are statements made before a "public hearing."

How is limiting the immunity of an ordinary citizen to "petition" their government or school officials simply to utterances made in a public hearing not unconstitutional? Why is writing a letter and submitting a petition about an issue of public concern not protected communication?

Burton Jay Rubin, a Virginia lawyer who has written extensively about SLAPP suits, contends that any law that limits the ways that a citizen can petition the government is potentially unconstitutional.

For this reason, the activities of petitioning — writing letters, gathering signatures, circulating fliers, rallying public support — are precisely what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they wrote The Bill of Rights and ought to be protected activities. 

Like Rubin, the Founding Fathers and countless other Virginians, I believe “there ought to be a law,” that will specifically prevent public officials from intimidating the very citizens and taxpayers they are supposed to serve by filing abusive lawsuits against them.  

It is difficult to imagine anything that strikes more directly at the heart of our form of government than a civil suit brought against a citizen by a public official seeking to suppress or deflect that citizen’s request that the official take some form of governmental action. 

And while common sense and Virginia common law already condemn such actions, that has proven not to be enough. Virginians have been getting slapped around long enough. The Virginia General Assembly needs to act.  Click here and here to read Rubin's legal analysis that cites extensive Virginia case law as a foundation for including not just words spoken at a public hearing, but written statements as well. 

Click here for a list of the members of the Virginia House of Delegates and contact information and here for a list of Virginia State Senators and their contact information. 

Anti-SLAPP legislation isn’t a Red State or Blue State thing. Twenty-eight states across the nation – as diverse as California and Texas – already have Anti-SLAPP legislation. Virginia’s existing law is so weak, the Commonwealth doesn’t even make the Public Participation Project’s list of states with Anti-SLAPP legislation.

Relevant links:
Del. Manoli Loupassi’s (R) bill:
Co-patroned by Delegates Chris Peace (R) and Jennifer McClellan (D).
Sen. Glen Sturtevant’s (R) bill:
Co-patroned by Senator Roslyn Dance (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D).

RPS Schools of the Future?

If Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones and the Richmond Economic Authority can find the money to build The Redskins a $12 million training facility just off the Boulevard near the main DMV, give away millions in tax breaks and incentives to a brewery and continuously promote pie-in-the-sky deals invoving a new baseball stadium, one would think they could figure out a way to finance the renovation of existing schools so we do not have our children being taught long-term in trailers parked behind our schools.  

Thanks to the combined cooperative leadership of a majority of the School Board -- most especially Kim B. Gray (2nd-District) and Kristen Larsen (4th-District) -- RPS Superintendent Dana Bedden and Tommy Kranz, assistant Supt of Operations, the School Board has provided voluminous information documenting the facility needs of our schools. 

Click here to see exactly what these needs are and why they must be met now -- not next year or the year after that. Click here to find how to contact your City Council representatives and let them know what your priorities are.

Report says Virginia Shortchanging Public Schools $800 Million Each Year

Facing financial strain, Virginia cut hundreds of millions of dollars from state education funding during the recession by adjusting the formulas used to determine how much money school districts receive.
But as the state’s economy has rebounded, many of the formulas have stayed the same. The result? Researchers at the Commonwealth Institute, a Richmond-based think tank, say that Virginia schools are being shortchanged $800 million a year ­because of formulas that under­­estimate what it actually costs to educate children.
Changes to the formula amounted to “tactics used to reduce state support in a time of financial strain, and they ignore the actual costs of educating Virginia’s students,” the researchers wrote. The adjustments also had the effect of cutting state education funding for the long haul by altering how Virginia calculated what it gives to each school district.
“These were not one-time cuts that they made to the appropriation level,” said Michael Cassidy, co-author of the report. “Rather, they went in and structurally changed the education funding formulas.”
The report, released this month, comes after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) proposed increasing education funding, a plan that could face resistance from the Republican-controlled legislature. Because the state divvies out funds based on a district’s ability to cover its expenses, Northern Virginia districts rely less on state funding than do their counterparts in less affluent parts of the state, so it remains unclear what the increase would mean for them. [Virginia governor proposes funding increase to hire additional teachers]
Sharon Bulova (D), head of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, is pressing state lawmakers for more education dollars as the state’s largest jurisdiction grapples with how to fund its school system.
The Commonwealth Institute has been a strong proponent of increasing funds for education, arguing that the state should begin during the recession.
In the report, “Virginia’s Eroding Standards of Quality,” Cassidy and co-author Chris Duncombe called the recession-era changes to the funding formulas “arbitrary.” The formulas, called the standards of quality, are based on a variety of factors, including a district’s relative wealth and what the district spends to operate.
One of the most devastating changes lawmakers made, the report said, was to cap the number of support positions the state would help fund in school districts, an adjustment made in 2009 that saved the state $754 million over two years. The state stopped funding 12,900 positions, meaning local school districts had to pick up the tab or eliminate the jobs. For each school district, the cap was based on minimum staffing ratios and, according to the report, did not reflect the reality of what it took to operate schools day-to-day. Those cuts hit administrators, school finance officers, custodians and others who work in school operations.
In 2010, the state extended the school bus replacement cycle from 12 years to 15, cutting the funds that flowed to bus fleets and saving the state nearly $10 million a year. Another change meant the funding formula no longer took into account how much a district spent on some equipment and travel, a change that cut an estimated $122 million from districts across the state.
Poor districts that rely more on state funding felt the brunt of the cuts. The study said Lee County lost nearly $2,500 per student between 2009 and 2014, accounting for inflation, the most of any district in the state. Lee County is among the poorest counties in Virginia and spent approximately $12,000 per student in the 2013-2014 school year, so the losses had a sizable impact on the district’s budget.
Some of Virginia’s poor counties struggled to make up for the losses in state funds. The cut in state education funding blunted the ability of the state to act as an equalizer, Cassidy said, and was felt disproportionately by poor districts.[High-poverty school divisions harder hit by state funding cuts in Virginia, study says]
In Northern Virginia, Prince William County lost the most, at $630 per student, according to the report. The county, which gets about half of its funding from the state, saw class sizes skyrocket in that period and now spends the least per student of the districts in the Washington area.
Other Northern Virginia districts — including Fairfax and Loudoun counties — actually saw modest gains in state funding. Cassidy explained that some counties hit hard during the housing crisis got boosts because the state funding formula is based partially on property values.
The institute argues that the state funding formula should be readjusted so it “accurately reflects the real costs of running schools and educating our kids.”
Reposted with permission from The Washington Post

Richmond Spends 20 percent LESS on K-12 Education than in 2005


As the General Assembly and local officials begin the annual budget-making battles, public school officials would be wise to ensure that all stake-holders have a firm grasp on the findings of a September 2015 JLARC report (click here).  

According to a report from the Joint Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), three divisions, per-student spending is at least 20 percent lower than in FY 2005: Richmond City, Charles City County, and Covington City. Compared to FY 2009 when per-student spending peaked, all but four school divisions in Virginia now spend less per student in real terms. 

The average Virginia school division spends nine percent less per student to provide instruction than it did in FY 2005. The 114 divisions that spent less in FY 2014 than in FY 2005 educate 98 percent of the state’s students. Instructional support services, which include helping teachers provide better instruction, declined by more than direct classroom instruction. 

Divisions reduced per-student spending on instruction through a combination of employing fewer teachers per student, limiting salary growth, and requiring teachers to pay a higher percentage of health insurance and retirement benefit costs. 

Divisions report that these spending reductions have hindered instructional effectiveness. This conclusion could not be independently validated, but there is support in the research literature that such reductions can negatively impact instructional effectiveness. 

Divisions also report that reduced spending per student on instructional support services is creating challenges, such as teachers being less prepared and curriculum not being fully aligned with state standards. 

The state could facilitate instructional support in a more efficient manner by rebuilding the Virginia Department of Education’s regional capability to help divisions provide teacher support. 

ALL Lives Matter ...

Black Lives Matter: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males

Black Lives Matter
In February, Schott released "Black Lives Matter," the 2015 installment of our biennial 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. This report illustrates the inexcusable degree to which Black male students are neglected by our nation's inequitable public education system. Read more >

Black Girls Matter: Pushed-Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected

Black Girls MatterThis important report from the African American Policy Forum, released in February, is a must-read for anyone committed to understanding how both race and gender impact educational opportunity in our country. Read more >

ProPublica Reports: The 10 Best 2015 Investigative Reports on Political Money

[Editor's Note:  
As "DeepThroat" famously told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein when they were working on the Watergate Scandal -- Follow the Money.  The following stories are gleaned by ProPublica's editors from newsrooms across the country.  Let us hope that next year there will be representation on this list from journalists working in Richmond, Virginia.  ~CW]

by Robert Faturechi
ProPublica, Dec. 22, 2015, 1:36 p.m.

David Sleight/ProPublica

The millions of dollars being spent on the presidential race by super PACs, secretive nonprofits and the candidates themselves could again make this election cycle the most expensive to date. Huge sums are also flowing into state and local races. Here, in chronological order, are ten stories from other newsrooms that got behind the cash flow to describe the latest uses and abuses of money in politics.

1. Rahm Emanuel Counts on Big Donors, With Many Getting City Hall Benefits

Chicago Tribune, January 2015
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is building “the most potent political cash machine in Chicago history” and his donors have frequently received benefits from City Hall. The investigation by John ChaseJeff Coen and Bill Ruthhart found that Emanuel’s 103 donors were responsible for $14 million (or almost half) of his fundraising haul. Almost 60 percent of those donors enjoyed benefits from city government, including contracts, permits, appointments and personal endorsements.

2. Rapper-backed Group Illustrates Blind Spot in Political Transparency

Center for Public Integrity, March 2015
Super PACs, unlike other political committees, can accept donations of unlimited size, but the identities of the donors are still supposed to be publicly disclosed. Some donors, however, have remained anonymous by donating through limited liability corporations, Michael Beckel reported. In some states, LLCs don’t have to register the names of the people behind them. One of the most flagrant users of the LLC loophole was Pras Michel, a founding member of the hip-hop group the Fugees.

3. The NRA’s Brazen Shell Game With Donations

Yahoo News, April 2015
By making small donations to the National Rifle Association and tracking where they ended up, Alan Berlow discovered that the gun rights group was improperly diverting money to its PAC. Organizations soliciting donations for electoral purposes are required by law to disclose that they’re doing so, but the NRA didn’t. “An NRA member might contribute to the organization because she admires its work on behalf of hunters…But this same donor may vehemently oppose the candidates endorsed in federal elections.” 

4. For-profit Colleges Flex Political Muscle

Miami Herald, April 2015
A review of Florida campaign records since 2008 found that for-profit colleges contributed more than $1.2 million to state legislators and parties. During the same period, the legislature passed 15 laws benefiting the industry, even as it faced fraud lawsuits and government investigations. Michael Vasquez found that legislators stripped quality standards and oversight, and the state’s attorney general was less aggressive than those in other states in going after schools that skirted the law. 

5. The New U.S. Office Politics: Funding Your Boss’s Political Causes

Reuters, May 2015
Employers are increasingly tapping their workers to help them fundraise, lobby and campaign. Michelle Conlin and Lucas Iberico Lozada found that since the Supreme Court paved the way for unlimited political spending by corporations, the number of companies enlisting their workers for political efforts rose 45 percent. Employees who comply are sometimes given perks. At BP, for example, workers who donate at least 2.5 percent of their salary to the company’s PAC get choice parking spots.

6. South Carolina Politicians Use Office to Pad Pockets

Charleston Post and Courier & Center for Public Integrity, September 2015
Elected officials and candidates in South Carolina are turning their campaign accounts, reimbursements from state government and gifts from special interests into “a personal ATM,” Tony Bartelme and Rachel Baye reported. Among the unusual expenditures: car repairs, male enhancement pills and paying off parking tickets. One legislator paid his own company and his father’s $105,000, making up almost 80 percent of the campaign expenditures. 

7. The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election

New York Times, October 2015
An exhaustive analysis of campaign finance records found that just 158 families, along with the companies they own or control, gave nearly half of all the money supporting Democratic and Republican 2016 presidential candidates. The donors — overwhelmingly rich, white older men — contributed $176 million during the early phase of the campaign. “Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign,” reported Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish. 

8. The Koch Intelligence Agency

Politico, November 2015
Though not strictly about campaign money, Kenneth Vogel’s story describes a lesser-known leg of the Koch Brothers’ political network, which for years has dispensed large donations to Republican and conservative causes. He describes a secretive operation with a staff of 25, including a former CIA analyst, charged with gathering “competitive intelligence” used to thwart liberal groups. The group also sends regular “intelligence briefing” e-mails tracking the campaign work of labor unions and environmental organizations. 

9. Inside the Clinton Donor Network

Washington Post, November 2015
Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed at least $3 billion in donations to their various political campaigns and the family’s charitable foundation, according to an analysis by Matea GoldTom Hamburger and Anu Narayanswamy. More than 336,000 individuals, corporations, unions and foreign governments have given money. At least $69 million of their political contributions came from the employees and PACs of banks, insurance companies, and securities and investment firms. Unions donated at least $21 million to support their races.

10. Behind the Clinton Campaign: Dark Money Allies

Sunlight Foundation, December 2015
The Sunlight Foundation breaks down the dark money nonprofits and super PACs backing Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. At the center of network is David Brock, a Clinton enemy-turned-ally who runs a number of groups that directly support Clinton or donate to groups that do. All are headquartered at the same Washington, D.C., address, reported Libby Watson and Melissa Yeager.
P.S.: We can’t let you go without mentioning a couple of ProPublica’s stories, too:

Super PAC Men: How Political Consultants Took a Texas Oilman on a Wild Ride

More than ever, wealthy donors are shunning established political groups and deciding to go it alone with their own super PACs. That strategy brings donors more control, but it also comes with risks. In one cautionary tale, a reclusive 89-year-old Texas oilman with little political experience launched one of the nation’s highest-spending conservative super PACs. But much of his millions ended up going to entities run by the group’s consultants or their close associates. The super PAC imploded as principals traded allegations of self-dealing, faked campaign events and a plot to siphon the PAC’s money to a reality TV show.

Hacked Sony Emails Reveal Behind-the-Scenes Political Dealings in L.A.

Super PACs are not just tools for political influence on the federal level. E-mails stolen by hackers from Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed just that, showing how corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence local politics and advance their executives’ pet projects. They showed that Sony’s CEO courted a local Los Angeles politician, directing $25,000 to a PAC he founded. The politician then cast a crucial vote in favor of directing $125 million of public funding to a museum whose directors included the Sony CEO. 
Related stories: Check out all ProPublica’s work on politics and government at The Breakdown.

Graduating (and Not)

[Editor's Note:  God Bless, John Butcher.  As I read the story in this morning's Richmond Times-Dispatch, my first thought was: I wonder what John thinks about this.  And then, I checked my e-mail. Thank you kindly, Mr. Butcher ...  ~ CW]

By John R. Butcher

The RT-D this morning reports that Virginia’s on-time graduation rate of 90.5% “tops” the national average of 82%.

The RT-D is mixing apples and pomegranates.  They are comparing national cohort data for 2014 with Virginia “on-time” data from 2015.

The Virginia “on-time” rate is a fiction, generated by VDOE to inflate the actual rate.  The actual 4-year cohort Virginia rate in 2015 was 86.7%.
Even so, that’s Virginia.  This is Richmond.  The (awful) Richmond rate actually dropped this year.
The 2015 cohort also had 167 dropouts in Richmond, 11.8% of the cohort.  
The enrollment pattern by grade gives a more nuanced picture of the huge numbers of students Richmond loses to dropouts and from parents who move to the much better schools in the Counties.