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Volume 1, Number 6. September 2010

Charter Schools: Because One Size Doesn’t Fit All Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant: A More Engaged Citizenry

Are Tax Holidays Beneficial to Consumers?

When School is at Home

Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years Later – Is it still George Bush’s fault?


Bearing Drift Virginia Politics on Demand J.R. Hoeft, Publisher jr@bearingdrift.com Michael Fletcher, Editor-in-Chief mrfletcher58@gmail.com Alan Moore, Editor alan@bearingdrift.com

Contributors this issue: DCH Michael R. Fletcher Jason W. Johnson Shaun Kenney Alan Moore Ward Smythe Josh St. Louis Krystle D. Weeks Guest Contributors Whitney Duff Š Copyright 2010

Stay Connected to Bearing Drift.

Click HERE to receive Bearing Drift Magazine by email.


In this Issue 5

Letter from Bearing Drift

6

Yeas and Nays

8

Guest Article by Whitney Duff Charter Schools: Because One Size Doesn’t Fit All

12

When School is at Home DCH

18

Bearing Drift Debate: What's the Point? Cuccinelli vs. UVA

24

Tax Holidays: Are they beneficial to Consumers? Krystle D. Weeks

26

Clifton Elementary “Thrown Under a Bus” Josh St. Louis

28

Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Jason W. Johnson

32

Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years Later - Is it still George Bush's fault? Michael R. Fletcher

38

The Final Ward

Next Month: Bearing Drift on Election 2010 BearingDrift.com / Page 3


Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010


Letter from Bearing Drift Education often is seen as a national issue, represented through a debate on whether the federal government has the right to set policy, and to what extent. Often lost is the role of the states in determining how best to educate our children. It's ironic that states and localities generally have the most direct control over public It's the most wonderful time of the education, yet they are often year...for parents at least. Summer neglected when we discuss is ending and the kids are going education. It's important to frame back to school. the issue from the localized viewpoint because a significant sum This month Bearing Drift takes a of our tax dollars paid to the look at Education in Virginia. Commonwealth and the localities in Parents across the Commonwealth which we live goes to education. In have been checking those school s Fairfax County, the most populated upply lists, doing a clothing county in Virginia, over 50% of the inventory, planning lunches and local budget goes to education. In arranging for before and after this edition education is examined school care. from, what we believe, is the most appropriate point of view.

Often lost is the role of the states in determining how best to educate our children. It's ironic that states and localities generally have the most direct control over public education, yet they are often neglected when we discuss education.

But while we may share those experiences, we understand that one education model may not be right for every child. On that note, we're pleased to announce that our guest article is this month is by Whitney Duff, former Executive Director of School Choice Virginia. Whitney gives a persuasive argument that, while charter schools are not the answer to every education woe, they're an idea whose time has come. And one that needs more attention and action in the Commonwealth.

If the answers don't reside in charter schools, could homeschooling be the solution? Many Virginia families believe that it is. DCH takes a look at Homeschooling and offer profiles of successful students. Elsewhere although the window has passed, Krystle Weeks looks at the benefits of the sales tax holiday for school supplies. Rounding out the education issue, Jason Johnson puts some thought into the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant. Josh St. Louis gives a glimpse into the politics behind the closing of Clifton Elementary. Our debate this month features regular contributors Alan Moore and Jason Johnson in a give and take regarding the Attorney General's pursuit of information from UVA's Department of Environmental Science. Finally, Michael Fletcher takes a look at Katrina, five years after the s torm devastated the Gulf Coast. This issue hits the web just as campaign season swings into full gear with the traditional Labor Day events. Next month we'll take an in depth look at the competitive Congressional races across the Commonwealth. For Bearing Drift,

J.R. Hoeft jr@bearingdrift.com

BearingDrift.com / Page 5


YEAS Governor Bob McDonnell announced that the end of year budget surplus for the Commonwealth was $403.2 million, nearly double the initial project of $220 million thanks to $175 million in cost savings by state agencies. Pretty impressive considering that when he walked into office in January the project budget deficit was $1.8 billion.

increases, or revives any tax, fee, or fine, nor shall any such law contain any provision that reduces or eliminates any credit, deduction, or exemption associated with any tax, fee, or fine." Marshall says he's drawing a line against allowing Washington tax extortion tactics to continue in Richmond.

At the request of Delegate Bob Marshall and Senator Ralph Smith, Attorney General Cuccinelli issued a Bob and Bill for Jobs legal opinion Monday that concludes that "the Lt. Governor Bill Bolling announced that the Tobacco commonwealth has the authority to regulate (abortion clinics) so long as the regulations adhere to Commission awarded Martinsville Speedway a grant of $1.5 million dollars, ensuring that the International constitutional limitations." Delegate Marshall responded by saying "This means fewer women are Speedway Corporation will guarantee two NASCAR Sprint Cup races annually at Martinsville Speedway for going to be injured and few er children in future childbirths will be injured. that's what it means." In at least the next five years. responding Governor McDonnell said that he believes abortion clinics should receive the same state Governor Bob McDonnell announced today that Microsoft Corp. will invest up to $499 million to locate scrutiny as outpatient surgery centers. their latest generation data center (Gen4) in Mecklenburg County, in what will be the largest NAYS economic investment in Southern Virginia history. In spite of the $403.2 million surplus announced by The Pollina Corporate Top 10 Pro-Business States for Governor McDonnell, no one is talking about giving 2010 named Virginia among the Top 10 Pro-Business money back to the taxpayers. States for 2010 for the second year in a row. In a surprise announcement, Secretary of Defense But speaking of balancing the budget. Robert Gates recommended the closing of the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk. The Hampton Roads Noting that "In 2010 the General Assembly put $130 area stands to lose up to 10,000 jobs if this million in new fees and business tax credit cuts into recommendation is approved. That’s a major hit Virginia’s budget on the last day to meet with little from a recommendation that came with no warning debate or publicity," Delegate Bob Marshall has and little to no justification. Governor McDonnell, proposed a Taxpayer Protection Amendment that Senators Warner and Webb and the Tidewater says "Any law that appropriates funds shall not Congressional Delegation have rallied in opposition contain any provision that imposes, continues, to the closing.

Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010


Virginia Education At a Glance

The campaign of Senator Robert Hurt, seeking to replace 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello, announced a mysterious white powder was found in an envelope Hurt opened in his Chatham office. While later proved to be harmless, Perriello denounced the incident. In a district that earlier saw Perriello's brother 's home allegedly the target of vandalism (by a misguided vandal who thought it was the Congressman's house), voters in the 5th district may be disheartened to think that the fall campaign may not be about the issues after all. Virginia Virtucon broke a story that 1st District candidate Krystal Ball’s latest Financial Disclosure Form raised more questions than answers. Apparently she forgot how much money she doesn't have. Virginia Virtucon also noted that recently elected State Senator Dave Marsden still rents a room in the district he "represents." Marsden is apparently hoping redistricting will mean that he doesn't have to move from his home. If you gerrymander it, it will come. At press time, Department of Motor Vehicle Computers were offline for the fourth day in a row due to server issues. Server issues rendered several state agencies unable to conduct their regular business. Wait, maybe this should be a "Yea"... Finally, a sad announcement from one of Southwest Virginia's most conservative and prolific bloggers. Carl Kilo of Spark It Up has announced that health issues are forcing him to take a step back from regular blogging. Our thoughts and prayers are with you Carl. We hope your good health, and your blogging both will be back soon.

In the 2009-2010 school year there were 1,244,906 students enrolled in Grades K-12 in Virginia Public Schools. During the same time frame a total of 7,020 students were home schooled or declared religious Exemptions. In FY 2009 the average teacher salary was $52,309. According to the National Education Association Rankings Virginia ranked 30th in the nation in teacher salaries for 2007-2008. Total State Education funding for the 2008-2010 Biennium is $14,360,585,691. The average Virginia family spends $600 per year on school supplies. According to the Virginia Department of Education in the 2009-2010 School Year, 367,876 school aged children were eligible to receive free nutrition services (lunch and/or breakfast) through the School Nutrition Program. Another 86,351 received a partial reduction in costs.

Some information provided by the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget.

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Charter Schools: Because One Size Doesn’t Fit All By Whitney Duff As the long, hot days of summer shorten into the (hopefully) cooler days of fall, our family, like many across Virginia, has been busy with some familiar rituals. School supply lists have been checked off, Unfortunately, though, the current system isn’t about new clothes have been purchased, bed-times are what you, as a parent, want. Even worse, it isn’t even getting earlier, new teachers have been met, and now about what is best for your child. It is about what we eagerly await the first day of class. works for a bunch of adults who have never even met the children they are randomly assigning to schools. For many families, the first day of school is an exciting Your child, as an individual, isn’t really factored into occasion, full of promise for new academic success the equation. and continued personal growth and development. Sadly, not all schools offer that same promise. While Boxing our kids in is not the solution, and academic many Virginians are fortunate to have access to safe, success should not be determined by a zip code or a high-quality, successful public schools, others, as a demographic. If we want to truly improve education, result of nothing more than their zip code, are limited we should be looking at ways to expand our options, to schools struggling to meet academic standards, not limit them, to create new opportunities, not schools that are overcrowded or even unsafe. restrict ourselves to the status quo. With more than 1.3 million school-age children in the Commonwealth, Last fall, I spoke with a representative of my local it is safe to say that a one-size-fits-all model will not public school district regarding school placement. be able to meet the unique academic needs of every Conveniently, she had with her a lovely, color-coded student, nor should it, in this technologically advanced map, showing the often-confusing and seeminglydigital-age. random boundaries drawn up for each school in the district. For some families, though there may be two Fortunately, across the country, including right here in highly performing elementary schools located just a Virginia, leaders are joining together in unprecedented, few blocks away from their house, they get grouped bipartisan action to bring about a new 21st century into a rather odd-shaped “box” on the map, meaning model that will truly reform our education system. their children would have to attend a poorlyWhile opponents may continue to make exaggerated performing school significantly farther away from their claims such as these reforms are designed to simply neighborhood. This particular school official seemed “eradicate public education,” the reality is that these almost apologetic about the situation, as she gave a leaders are actually considering a vast array of options weak attempt to suggest the schools were making that will enhance our overall education portfolio. small steps towards improvement, even if those Rather than simply relying on the thinking that the improvements may not be readily visible. solution is “more money,” these reforms are designed to provide more students the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Charter schools, tuition tax credits, vouchers, virtual education and university lab schools are just some of the options that will provide additional tools when it comes to meeting the instructional needs of a large and increasingly diverse student population. Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010


While Virginia was one of the first states to enact legislation allowing for the establishment of charter schools, it has since fallen behind other states in the actual creation of these schools. Earlier this summer, Virginia Board of Education President Eleanor Saslaw led the Board in unanimously adopting a resolution defending and pledging to increase the Commonwealth’s system of performance standards. While many Virginia public schools have been successful in making required academic gains and meeting standards, some continue to fall behind or only make minimal progress. The question now remains as to what will be the real consequences for failure to meet these standards and what steps will be taken to deal with chronic low performing schools. Virginia must develop a plan of action, making this is a real opportunity for our leaders to seriously consider the many alternatives, including choice, to strengthen our educational programs for all students.

In June, Governor Bob McDonnell signed legislation allowing the state Board of Education a larger role in the evaluation of charter school applications. At the time, he specified Petersburg as one location that may particularly benefit from first-class charter schools and noted that he has encouraged Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson to reach out to successful charterschool operators. This August, the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts charter elementary school in Richmond opened its doors to 160 students (selected from approximately 225 families who applied for the initial lottery). This incremental progress has spurred several additional localities across Virginia to now begin the initial process of considering charter applications as well.

One option flourishing in many states is charter schools, which are publicly funded schools, sometimes with additional private support, operating with increased freedom and flexibility to establish unique and innovative learning programs. While Virginia was one of the first states to enact legislation allowing for the establishment of charter schools, it has since fallen behind other states in the actual creation of these schools. Nearly 5,000 charter schools are now in operation in 40 states, educating approximately 1.5 million students, while in Virginia just three charter schools are in operation today.

The General Assembly earlier this year also approved legislation allowing for the establishment of college partnership laboratory schools. Similar to charter schools, these are public schools established by a college or university through a contract with the Board of Education and provide greater flexibility, autonomy and innovation than traditional public schools, as well as the added benefits of association with an institution of higher education. The University of Virginia was active in supporting this legislation, and the Commonwealth’s many first-rate colleges and universities offer many opportunities to expand this option to students.

Though Virginia may have fallen behind the curve, the delay does allow the benefit of being able to learn from the achievements, and struggles, of charter schools in other states, so that the Commonwealth can now draw from the best models in order to ensure the establishment of only successful, high-quality charter schools.

Another potentially significant opportunity for Virginia to establish more charter school options exists with our extensive military presence in the Commonwealth, and the subsequent population of over 76,000 schoolaged children in those families.

Continued on Page 10

BearingDrift.com / Page 9


Charter Schools: Because One Size Doesn’t Fit All Continued from Page 9 Children of active-duty military service members face unique educational challenges due to their parents’ deployments and frequent relocations. Several years ago, the Marine Corps recognized the challenges they faced in recruiting and retaining Marines stationed in New Orleans, due, in part, to the struggling public schools. Taking matters into their own hands, the military, led by the Commander, Marine Forces Reserve and the Commander, Naval Forces Reserve, took the initiative to start the first-ever public charter school established on a military installation, Belle Chasse Academy, which opened its doors in September of 2002. Other states are now beginning to follow this example, and just this year, the Maryland legislature passed Senate Bill 834, which allows military bases in the state to open charter schools. The effort, co-sponsored by two Maryland Senate Democrats, was actively supported by base officials at Andrews Air Force Base, who helped make the case to lawmakers about the unique educational needs of students from military families. While charters are often a positive alternative to supplement and enhance the public school system, they should likewise not be viewed a silver-bullet when it comes to education reform. As evidenced by states such as Florida and Arizona, successful education reform means comprehensive education reform, embracing a broad range of options to create increased choices.

While charters are often a positive alternative to supplement and enhance the public school system, they should likewise not be viewed a silver-bullet when it comes to education reform. Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010

An increasing number of states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio and Arizona, have now implemented various programs to give parents greater access to educational choices for their children. These programs vary greatly in their design and application, ranging from tax credits to special needs vouchers and many others in between, but the underlying commonality is that they begin to put parents back in charge of educational selection. The variety of these programs, many of which have been in place for a number of years, can provide Virginia leaders with a wealth of information about implementing successful policies to expand access to high-quality educational Options. Again considering Virginia’s large military population, on the national level, efforts have been made to create a pilot program that would provide vouchers to students of military families with special needs. Just this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved such language in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. If this measure were passed by Congress, military families with students with special needs would be eligible for scholarships of up to $7,500 per year, which could be supplemented by state programs, to be used to cover educational expenses at a public or private school of the parents choosing. Pending the outcome of this fall’s elections, renewed efforts may be seen in Congress to promote this or similar programs.


When our kids pack their backpacks, put on their new shoes and head off to school, we should be confident knowing that the educational opportunities they will receive will open doors for them to reach their full potential. Though legislation has been introduced in Virginia year after year to create special needs voucher programs and tuition tax credit scholarship programs, those efforts have continued to be blocked by those who would rather continue to defend the status quo than embrace changes that could provide all students access to first-rate schools that best meet their needs. They claim these choices would simply take money from public schools, even though under most programs, even when a student leaves the schools system, the district retains a portion of the allocated funding (essentially resulting in them being paid to not have to educate that child). Last November, the Friedman Foundation released its survey, “Virginia’s Opinion on K-12 Education and School Choice.” In addition to finding broad support from Republicans, Democrats and Independents for tax-credit scholarships, vouchers and special needs vouchers, one interesting finding was that 65% of the voters interviewed substantially underestimated Virginia’s per-pupil public school spending. Perhaps this becomes less surprising when considering an analysis released this March by the Cato Institute, “They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools,” which showed that the real per student annual spending in Arlington County totals $23,752 and that in localities across the country, actual expenditures are often underreported due to the omission of some major costs.

Finally, for those who would argue that this is simply a partisan issue, surveys continue to show that voters across the board support these types of reforms. In Virginia, the Friedman Foundation found support for tax-credit scholarships ranged from 64 percent (Democrats) to 68 percent (Republicans), with 66 percent of independents also in favor. Likewise, regardless of political affiliation, a majority of all respondents supported school vouchers and 79 percent supported vouchers designed to benefit special needs students. As we are all well aware, our children are growing up in a world where competition for jobs will come not just from down the street, but from all across the world. In this global marketplace, it is imperative that we prepare our students to be competitive and ready to meet the challenges of an ever-changing economy. Just as businesses must evolve and adapt to continue to thrive, the way we think about educating our children should also advance as new methods are developed and successes are demonstrated. To do otherwise, does a disservice to our children and our futures. When our kids pack their backpacks, put on their new shoes and head off to school, we should be confident knowing that the educational opportunities they will receive will open doors for them to reach their full potential. It was George Washington Carver who said, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” The state should not place limits on what our children can achieve by restraining the educational system and limiting it to models of the past. Instead, we should encourage and embrace new paradigms of learning that will continue to open doors and expand horizons for all students. Whitney Duff is the Former Executive Director of School Choice Virginia. BearingDrift.com / Page 11


When School is at Home

Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010


It's back-to-school for hundreds of thousands of Virginia students. But for some of those students, back-to-school isn't a place; it's a state of mind. According to the Virginia Department of Education 30,310 students were educated at home during the 2009/2010 school year.

legal moves that increase government control over private schools, such as proposed changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, which could eventually impact Homeschools.

In Virginia, where the legal environment is generally favorable to homeschooling, families have two options. They can operate under the “home school” With the advent of compulsory public school portion of the code, which requires annual testing for attendance requirements, homeschooling, once a normal way of gaining a basic education, became rare. students with results reported directly to their local school districts. Alternatively, they can educate under Virginia's “religious exemption” statute, which allows It began re-emerging in the early 1980s as some those with a religious conviction regarding parental parents became dissatisfied with the quality or content of public school education. And, it was weird oversight of their children's education to school at – or at least it sure seemed unusual, even suspicious, home – no questions asked. to many people. In some states it was even illegal to Ranjani Johnson, a homeschooling mother shared her homeschool. Families who homeschooled in the 70s reasons for homeschooling her four daughters for the and 80s considered themselves pioneers of a past nine years: “My negative experience as a student movement. Their children may have been mistaken in the government-controlled school system convinced for truants. They were asked lots of questions: Wasn't me that subjugating my children through this system public school good enough for them? Did they all have would be harmful to them. Raised in an orthodox to dress in denim? How can their kids possibly get Hindu family, I had a difficult time adjusting to the socialization? What's with winning the spelling bees drug activity, teen pregnancies, disrespect towards anyway? teachers, vulgar language, and perversion. Initially, my children attended private schools for a short time. I felt Today, it’s different. According to data from the that my children were not challenged enough with the National Household Education Surveys by the instruction they received at these private schools. Department of Education, an estimated 1.5 million Therefore, I decided to homeschool under the umbrella U.S. students were educated at home as of 2007 program through a Christian private school.” (the last year for which official numbers are available) Now homeschooling is not just accepted but legally protected in most states. For homeschool advocates, the biggest legal challenge their movement faces is posed by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty, which, if adopted in the U.S. would give government unprecedented authority over family matters regarding religion, education and child welfare. The movement is also concerned about

Virginia homeschoolers also have a champion at the top levels of government. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is a homeschool dad. His wife, Alice Monteiro Cuccinelli “Teiro,” a James Madison University graduate, has been primarily responsible for her children's education for nearly a decade. That's no small task with seven children, five of them school age. Cuccinelli's oldest, Alie, was homeschooled for seven years before Continued on Page 14 BearingDrift.com / Page 13


When School is at Home Continued from Page 13

attending Seton, a private Catholic school. Cuccinelli helps with the children's education, coaching them in math particularly but he is quick to acknowledge how much of the work is done by his wife. Alie Cuccinelli notes that her independent nature made homeschooling the best choice for her. Without the individualized experience it provided, she thinks she would have become “a common face in the principal's office” in her early years of school. Alie Cuccinelli credits her homeschool experience with a smooth transition to private school. She comments: “My transition was really smooth - it was almost unnerving how easy it was. There were several reasons for this; first of all was my tendency to work completely independently from anyone else; during homeschool Mom would give me an assignment sheet, the books I needed for the day, and I was good to go (if I ever got stuck on something, usually in math, I'd try to work it out by myself and if I still didn't get it I'd take it to her). During my entire Seton career I almost never ask for help with math and never with the actual writing of papers, although both Mom and Dad proofread them. Everything else I do completely on my own.” Alie notes that she has never really followed pop culture and homeschooling meant that she didn't have to know about current music or movies to be socially connect. Now a rising sophomore, Alie says she transitioned slowly into the social life of her new school: “The result was that the people who really were good friends, who would be friends even with the underdog and not just the popular people, became my close buddies in the class. I can get along with everyone in my class but I have a small knot of close friends I feel I can really trust with whom I spend most of my afterschool time. I also look to other grades for friends some of my closest friends just graduated, some are rising seniors, many (especially the boys) are rising juniors, and there are several in the lower classes.”

Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010

Alie Cuccinelli Age: 14 Education: Kindergarten through 6th grade under Virginia's home school code Currently: enrolled in Seton High School (private) Interests: writing, directing plays, acting in plays, swimming, horseback riding, archery On Homeschooling: Whether it's school, piano, a project, even cleaning my room, I like to do it at my own pace and in my own way. In homeschool, if I was having trouble with something, I could work at it for two weeks or a month or however long it took. Or, if I got something right away, I could breeze right through it and go on to the next subject. It also let me be at my own level in everything; one year I was ahead in math but needed work on my handwriting, so I used a higher level math program and a third grade handwriting program (I think I was in 4th or 5th grade). I also didn't have to socialize if I didn't want to (I'm no social butterfly even though I like being with friends), nor was I ever mixed up in anything I didn't want to be (to this day I still don't connect the person to the album, character, etc. when I hear Rascal Flatts or . . . shoot, forgot the name of the creepy-looking guy who played Edward in Twilight) - not that I care! For me I really don't think homeschooling had disadvantages - (long division was one at the time, but I'd have had to learn that anyway.


Attorney Scott Woodruff, who covers Virginia issues for Home School Legal Defense (HSLDA), a nationwide homeschool advocacy organization says, “Almost everyone knows someone who homeschools their kids now.” You probably work, go to college or mix socially with someone whom you don't even know is a home school graduate.

parents are not. However, while public school students perform significantly better on standardized tests when one or both parents are college-educated and when family income is higher, this disparity almost disappears for homeschooled children. Even students whose parents did not have college degrees performed at the 83rd percentile and those with lower family incomes ($35,000 or less) performed only four In fact, homeschooled young people have consistently percentage points lower than those families making outperformed their public school counterparts on $70,000 or more. standardized tests. The latest research conducted by Dr. Brian Ray and commissioned by HSLDA indicates What does all this achievement cost? Again, according that homeschooled students outperformed their to Dr. Ray, the median amount spent on home public school peers in all achievement test categories education was between $400 and $600 per student – by 34-39 percentage points. Some of the difference every year. According to research cited by the may be explained by the fact that all students score Heritage Foundation, homeschooling families save better when their parents are involved in their taxpayers approximately $10 billion dollars annually. education and homeschooling parents are invariably involved while at least some public school student’s Continued on Page 16 Stephen Mouring Age: 23 Education: Homeschooled under Religious Exemption in Virginia from Kindergarten through 10th grade. Dual enrolled at Lord Fairfax Community College through 11th and 12th grade, graduating with an AAS in Science. Attended George Mason and earned a B.S. and M.S. In Computer Science. Currently: Working for a software development company in Reston, VA. Interests: Spending time with my wife. Programming software. Writing the definitive edition of Zorro novel. Collecting archaic weapons and armor. Playing World Of Warcraft. Watching movies. Listening to film scores and soundtracks. Hiking. Travel. On Homeschooling: I think at least three things give homeschooling a significant advantage over more traditional education methods. First is the fact that the education in a home school is far more tuned to your learning style and personality type than in a classroom setting. I felt that my education was well adapted to my learning needs and that gave me an advantage as I progressed through my college education. Second is the fact that the home setting can contain less time overhead and distractions than a classroom setting. It enabled me to focus on school more effectively and concentrate on learning. Third is the fact that the standards are often higher in a home school setting and there is more direct accountability with the parents. This fosters an environment where you are encouraged to excel and not content to meet the lowest common denominator. BearingDrift.com / Page 15


When School is at Home Continued from Page 15

Homeschool families are strikingly diverse. While most are two-parent families with only one parent working outside the home and most have a larger than average size, the generalizations stop there. Muslim and Wiccan family’s homeschool as well as Christians and those with no religious affiliation. Some homeschool exclusively. Others dual enroll their children in public or private school classes. Homeschool support groups and cooperatives provide support for member families, from joint field trips, to shared science labs, literature discussion groups and specialized classes. Parents trade teaching tips and used curriculum. Many homeschooling juniors and seniors take community college classes. Even struggling home school families have recourse to help from experienced parent-educators. Yvonne Bunn, who leads the Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) notes that her organization is “glad to work with parents who are having a difficult time. We have curriculum counselors that will be happy to discuss other resources and teaching methods that may work better for a child who is not progressing.” Bunn offered her thoughts on the pluses and minuses of homeschooling. She says:“Homeschooling is parent directed education. Because a parent knows his child better than any other person, he is able to choose a

Resources Home School Legal Defense Association hslda.org Home Education Association of Virginia heav.org Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers vahomeschoolers.org

Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010

Brittany Wilson Age: 16 Education: Kindergarten, first grade and grades six through twelve under Virginia's home school code, graduating at age 16. Attended public school from age 7-11. Currently: Headed back-to-school to study Early Childhood Education at her local community college. Interests: working with young children, writing, music, singing On homeschooling: As a home schooled child I would like to say it was one of the best things my parents could have ever done for me. I am in fact one of the busiest teens of all my friends, I go shopping, I have sleepovers regularly, and I always have friends over at my house, I take art classes, voice lessons, and I have a job the takes up most of my spare time. Children who are home schooled learn to socialize with people of all ages, whereas public schooled children learn to socialize only with other people their own ages. I was in fact, not home schooled my whole life, but I would much rather be home schooled, there is no rush. You can go at your own pace, and feel like you actually know what you are learning. One of the best parts of home schooling is being able to stay in your pajamas all day. ...In my family's life, God is very important. He is the one who leads us down the right paths, and in our case the right path has been home schooling. It has kept my sisters and me safe, drug free, alcohol free, and free of most peer pressure. We have been free to believe the way we want, and we can be free to worship God as much as we need. There are some bad points about home schooling. Being stuck in a house with your mother at an age where bad attitude is at large can be quite trying. Don’t get me wrong I love my mother, and siblings, but being with them for the most of my day usually ended up quite interesting. Another sour point about home schooling would have to be the fact that a lot of people who don’t home school don’t understand why we do it.


Bearing Drift contributor, DCH, wrote this story. curriculum that is compatible with the student's learning style and needs. An individualized curriculum The Virginia Education Association had not responded to our request for comment by press time. provides a child with extra work [for] remediation or advanced material if he is excelling. One-on-one tutoring offers the greatest possibility of success for a student.� However, “A homeschooling parent must commit time and energy to this educational endeavor. He must be willing to learn along with the child if he encounters a subject with which he is not familiar. Not all parents are willing to make this commitment.� Altogether, today's homeschooling families in Virginia have far more resources and enjoy both greater community support and a more favorable legal environment than they did twenty-five years ago. Ranjani Johnson Education: Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from George Mason University On Homeschooling: There are advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling, but personally the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. As a parent, I have more control over the methods and content when teaching my children. Homeschooling allows flexibility for breaks, field trips, music classes, political activism, 4-H club participation and vacations. Through these activities, my daughters have become more socially competent than the average public school child. Curriculum for homeschooling is far less expensive than a private school. Further, our bond is stronger as a family due to the ample time we spend together studying the Bible. My husband and I have discussions with our daughters regarding issues they will experience in the future pertaining to college, men, jobs, finances, and marriage. We use the Bible as our guide to lead our daughters to become godly young ladies. The only disadvantage to homeschooling is the lack of tax relief from the government. On her kids: My eldest daughter, Seraphina, who is currently eighteen, began to attend college at the age of sixteen as a dual-enrolled student. She is planning to pursue a B.S. degree in Biochemistry and later attend a medical school for adoctorate degree. Seraphina is also an accomplished opera singer, pianist, and member of the Loudoun County 4-H Shooting Club. Her other interests include sewing, cooking, knitting, gardening, and reading. My second daughter, Seema, who is sixteen, aspires to become a dentist. Seema, who plans to complete high school in 2011, is also an accomplished singer, flutist, and member of the 4-H Shooting and Goat Clubs. Her interests include cooking, crocheting, and reading. Gabriella, my thirteen year old daughter, is in eighth grade. She has a passion for playing the violin and learning Tai Chi. Gabriella is a 4-H member of the Leaps & Squeaks, Sheep, Shooting, and Dairy Club. My youngest daughter, Priyanka, is eleven years old and in sixth grade. She enjoys gymnastics and is a member of the 4-H Leaps & Squeaks and Poultry Club. BearingDrift.com / Page 17


What’s the point? A friendly debate on political issues of the day. This debate is between Bearing Drift contributors Jason Johnson and Alan Moore.

Earlier this year Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, no stranger to controversy, launched a fraud investigation against the University of Virginia. It is his contention that some of the data used in taxpayer-funded research grants involving Dr. Michael Mann, who was at the heart of the “Climate-gate” scandal, was intentionally manipulated. The Attorney General’s office argues that any research project funded by the state must be accountable to the taxpayers and has demanded documents relating to the climate research performed by Dr. Mann. However, the University of Virginia claims that such a request is an intrusion on academic freedom. They have issued a challenge, labeling it as “an unprecedented attempt to challenge a university professor’s peer reviewed date, methodologies and conclusions.” At the heart of the matter is the issue of academic freedom. Should colleges and universities have the right to research whatever and however they want without fear of reprisal or should the state have some say on taxpayer funded projects when there is reason to believe fraudulent activity has taken place?

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JJ: Let me begin by saying that I love Attorney General Cuccinelli and if this is the only action he takes during his term that I disagree with, he will make a fine attorney general! That having been said, I believe it was Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote something to the effect that “more freedom is lost to the good prince than to the bad.” Essentially, because we trust a virtuous leader, we feel comfortable granting him (or her) power or, in this case, oversight, that we might not be willing to trust to a less virtuous leader. Similarly, because we conservatives trust AG Cuccinelli and because we are highly skeptical of the proposition that “global warming” or “climate change” (or whatever is the term du jour) is caused by human activity, we are willing to grant Cuccinelli latitude to do what we would have never been willing to allow an Attorney General Steve Shannon to do: become the Commonwealth’s Peer Reviewer-in-Chief. Allowing government officials such authority sets a potentially dangerous precedent that all academic research an official finds objectionable can be investigated and, as such, holds academia hostage to sundry political agendas. AM: Let’s say you use your hard earned money to sponsor a research study outside of academia on an important topic to you, any topic at all. The research team does a great job and you are happy with the results. Years later the lead scientist of that study is caught red-handed fabricating data on the same research subject and where the research conclusions from your study were used. Would you demand an investigation? Would you have some serious questions about the legitimacy of that project? Academia should not get a free pass on accountability when taxpayers fund their studies, just because they say they should. Our money paid for a study in which possibly


Jason Johnson: Allowing government officials such authority sets a potentially dangerous precedent that all academic research an official finds objectionable can be investigated and, as such, holds academia hostage to sundry political agendas. fraudulent data was used, AG Cuccinelli has every right to investigate on behalf of the people of Virginia. And let’s not forget that this is an isolated incident, he isn’t launching investigations into other areas of academia just for the heck of it. If there is reason to believe a crime has been committed it is his duty to investigate. As the Attorney General said at the onset of the investigation, “The use of manipulated data to apply for taxpayer-funded research grants in Virginia is potentially fraud. Given this, the only prudent thing to do was to look into it.”

not a criminal investigation. If the data is inaccurate and/or the findings do not flow from the data, a researcher’s peers will call him or her out, both to preserve the reputation of the discipline and (possibly) to publish a study refuting the original study (this happens frequently in the social sciences, at least). There are academics, few and far between though they may be who are doing great work in the field of climatology and remain unconvinced by the proponents of man-made global warming. These academics, who are well-versed in the literature and science of climatology, are better equipped to recognize the difference between manipulated data and inaccurate conclusions than is the attorney JJ: I agree completely: when tax dollars are being general. Actually, this is reminiscent of the argument used, researchers have a supererogatory duty to ensure the accuracy of their data and the logic of their James Madison makes in Federalist 10: what is the findings. That having been said, however, there is an better method of dealing with factions: eliminate their freedom to exist or weaken their influence by enormous difference between knowingly using fraudulent data for the purpose of manipulation and increasing the number of factions? Madison believed the latter was the more prudent course of action and, in drawing conclusions that, based upon the data employed, seem logical, but are ultimately flawed. It in the issue at hand, so do I: when potentially deceptive research is picked apart by experts in the seems unclear which tact the academic at UVa took. This is the proper province of the peer-review process, field, that will bear greater weight in the court of public opinion than will a criminal investigation by an elected official (which will also have the effect of politicizing an issue and causing some people to disregard its findings based solely on the identity of the investigator). AM: As a graduate student myself I understand the peer review process. I also understand the incredible amount of liberal bias that exists in higher education. Russell Kirk wrote extensively on this subject from first hand experience. He once said, “If the professors are quarter-educated doctrinaires, sedulous to engage in secular indoctrination rather than in a real search for Truth, then they have no right to academic freedom, and are sure to lose it.” In other words, if a professor is more concerned with purporting a biased and secular Continued on Page 20 BearingDrift.com / Page 19


What’s the point? A friendly debate on political issues of the day. Continued from Page 19 agenda then they have no business being in higher education. Compound that with the pressure to keep funding from grants coming in and it is highly likely that some mischief could have taken place. The point is that higher education is far from perfect and the whole system may need to be reformed. For too long, academia has been given carte blanche to do whatever they want with no accountability when taxpayer dollars are involved. Michael Mann has shown that he might be more of a liberal ideologue than someone seeking truth and must be stopped. If nothing more comes from this then professors thinking twice before manipulating data to further some selfish purpose, then I say mission accomplished.

instead of Truth, but is to expand the conversation by increasing the number and diversity of voices in the debate. For one reason or another, conservatives are less inclined toward the professorate. This needs to Change.

Academia should be about the quest for Truth; that is the path Socrates initiated millennia ago and that is the path that academics have tried to follow ever JJ: Alan, I think you have a good point: academia is since. It can be an unsettling path; too, as long-held largely composed of liberals (in fact, I once had a beliefs buckle under the weight of newly uncovered professor who was an avowed anarchist!), but, to return to my original point, I think it would be a tragic facts and some individuals refuse to entertain the mistake to say that since some academics are liberals possibility that their opinions are incorrect. As you suggest, in recent decades the veneer of Truth that who cannot be trusted to set aside their personal cloaks some academics’ personal opinions has grown opinions in the quest for Truth, we should restrict academic freedom for all. Conservatives, of all people, thinner. When we know conclusively that data has been falsified--at public expense--to bring “Truth” into line should understand the inherent danger in restricting with preconceived opinions, that is not only fraud; it freedom simply because we may not like how some also serves to diminish the vaunted reputation of individuals choose to utilize their freedom. Once this academe. This damage, as well as the sheer volume of precedent has been set, what is to stop a future research produced every year, is why I remain statewide elected Democrat from launching an investigation into the research data of a conservative convinced that academia should have original jurisdiction over questions of falsified data. If a academic who, for example, dares to question an individual’s biological predisposition toward same-sex researcher’s peers can prove that a researcher’s publicly attraction, the psychological impact abortion has on the funded data was falsified or the results manipulated in order to reach a particular conclusion, then and only mother or even the effectiveness of Keynesian economics? Once that genie is out of the bottle, it will then should criminal investigations begin. This is not giving liberal academics a carte blanche, this is never go back and we must be wary of it. Thus, the way to combat potentially unscrupulous academics is ensuring that freedom is protected, government not to initiate criminal investigations every time they authority is controlled and, in the process, humanity write something we believe may be a personal opinion continues its age-old quest for Truth.

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Alan Moore: Since Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth,” the Left’s obsession with global warming has been in overdrive. The Left will happily throw money at anything showing that global warming is caused or aided by mankind. AM: You’re missing the point regarding academics using their positions to further themselves. Michael Mann might not have falsified data to push some ecoradical green paradise agenda. He might not have did it because he saw himself as a green messiah who simply had to cut corners for the greater good of the planet. Chances are that he falsified data in order to keep those dollars rolling in from the deep pockets of the American taxpayer. It’s possible that my original assertion is incorrect and Mann might not even be an ideologue, he might be a capitalist, a deceitful one, but a capitalist nonetheless. Since Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth,” the Left’s obsession with global warming has been in overdrive. The Left will happily throw money at anything showing that global warming is caused or aided by mankind. Swerving public opinion to meet this end means more pressure on government and other grant-awarding organizations to invest in green studies. Knowing this it looks as if Dr. Mann saw an opportunity for further research dollars, and pounced.

Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University

JJ: When I said academia should be self-policing, I did not necessarily mean that each institution should vet all of the research produced by its faculty, but rather each discipline should be (and is) responsible for ensuring the integrity of studies performed beneath its umbrella. Generally the disciplines are very good at that; occasionally a Dr. Mann will slip through the cracks. When he or she does, an investigation should not be commenced simply on the basis of outside opposition, because someone or some organization will always exist to challenge the veracity of data or a conclusion with which they disagree. Academics familiar with the data should be the ones to determine whether the data is sufficiently questionable to merit an investigation. I certainly hope you are right that the uproar over AG Cuccinelli’s decision should be enough to discourage future criminal investigations for political gain, but human nature (and politics) being what it is, I have my doubts.

It also seems that we are in agreement on one point. Academia should have first crack at policing the integrity of the data produced at their institution. However, in this case the university has failed to thoroughly investigate Dr. Mann’s work which now has serious doubts to its veracity. You say that criminal investigations should occur if data is knowingly falsified, and since it seems that it is, I’m glad that I’ve been able to convince you that an investigation should take place. If we leave it to the universities to police themselves then there will never be any investigation ever, they simply will not report it. Additionally, this is a rare case when the state must step in and I sincerely doubt that this will become a continuing trend. Judging by the flack that AG Cuccinelli has received from both sides of the aisle, I doubt anyone would want to attempt an investigation of this nature for political gains.

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What’s the point? A friendly debate on political issues of the day. Continued from Page 21 Nonetheless, since academics are under constant pressure to, as they say, “publish or perish” it seems that the best we can do is compromise by proposing a revision to the standards governing grants funded by taxpayers. The board(s) that approve grant requests should more thoroughly review a researcher’s research proposal. Perhaps they should even follow up throughout the course of the study, and at the conclusion of the study, to ensure that the data is legitimate. These are just two very simple--and rough --ideas for reform; no doubt academics who are more familiar than am I with the grant process would have more and better ideas for reform. Ultimately, though, I believe this type of reform is a better method for balancing the twin goals of preserving academic freedom and of reducing the temptation to defraud taxpayers via falsified data in publicly funded research projects than is a criminal investigation. Both are essential goals and, unfortunately, in attempting to promote the latter, I fear AG Cuccinelli will harm (inadvertently, of course) the former--and not just for the unscrupulous, or greedy, academics, but potentially for all academics who pursue controversial subjects.

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AM: One thing to consider in this situation is Dr. Mann wasn’t simply caught falsifying data alone; he had a lot of help. Others were implicated over the leak of emails. With those revelations it is easy to believe he had help at UVa in his fabrications. If we are to expect academic departments to police themselves then how do we prevent collusion of this magnitude? I don’t have enough faith that academics, even those familiar with the data, will call for a criminal investigation at their own institutions and in their own departments. I believe the liberal fraternity of academics will always protect their own and expecting them to honor the search for truth amounts to asking prisoners to guard themselves. Dr. Mann in particular permanently “misplaced” the data used in his controversial hockey stick graph. On one of the biggest findings showing climate change attributed to mankind, he carelessly lost the data? This lack of integrity must be stopped. I agree that a more thorough approach to grant requests is a good start but I have serious doubts in the government’s ability to effectively administer taxpayer funds on any level. I think it is sad we have come to the point where tainted academics must be investigated but I fear there is no other recourse on this matter. If Dr. Mann is proved innocent then no harm done, but if fraud took place then academics will think twice before falsifying data to push their personal pursuits.


Ayers Chapel/School in Huddleston, Virginia, near Smith Mountain Lake. Originally constructed as a Methodist Church, the building housed a school from the time the church dissolved in 1879 until 1935 when the school closed and its students were sent to Moneta High School. The building was moved to its current locationshortly thereafter and became a tenant house for the J. Roy Nichols farm. Photo Courtesy of Peggy H. Johnson

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Tax Holidays: Are they beneficial to Consumers? By Krystle D. Weeks It’s that time of year again, when students head back to the classroom to embark on the joys of learning. Along comes the arduous chore of back-to-school shopping and parents’ spending money to ensure their children are well equipped for their learning endeavors. This task alone hits the pocketbooks and wallets pretty hard. Currently, sixteen states across the nation offer sales tax holidays for parents shopping for school supplies and clothing items. There are certain guidelines and items covered under the tax exemption. According to a recent Rasmussen Poll conducted between August 2-3, 2010, sixty-two percent of parents favor the sales tax holiday and sixty percent of those surveyed would be more likely to shop during the holiday.

There are critics who say the holiday may make political sense but not necessarily economic sense. They question whether a tax holiday succeeds in generating more sales and stimulating the economy. Groups like the Tax Foundation and the Heritage Foundation make a persuasive argument that acrossthe-board cuts would be more beneficial than a weekend or a full week break from the sales tax. Unfortunately, the probability of this occurring is highly unlikely considering the budget and political obstacles in many states. Organizations such as the Tax Foundation and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities mock sales tax holidays as merely “gimmicks,” but there is strong evidence indicate that these tax reprieves are working. According to Florida TaxWatch, the sales tax holiday has generated a 17 percent increase in sales and has become the third largest shopping day of the year (behind both the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve). Florida’s tourist economy is heavily dependent on consumer spending, and since the holiday has been enacted, consumer spending has increased by 26 percent.

The tax holiday is also welcome by retailers, as the recession continues to depress sales. Laurie Peterson Aldrich, President of the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, said the sales tax holiday is a “win, win for everyone” by providing a “shot in the arm” for retailers while also providing relief for families. She points to a Florida study showing that the holiday actually boosted tax revenue in part because of the increased employment and Other states with tax holidays have experienced overtime wages. similar sales increases. For example, both Maryland and Illinois have embraced sales tax holidays. Virginia’s sales tax holiday has been well received by Governor Pat Quinn (D-Ill.) pointed to the 10 percent Governor Robert McDonnell who says he has no increase in sales at Walgreens’ throughout the state doubt that the sales tax suspension will help stimulate (based in Illinois) as proof of the tax holiday’s the local economy during the recession. “success.”

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Like many states, Maryland is experiencing a budget gap which has led to mandatory furloughs for state employees. To close this gap, Governor O’Malley proposed a one percent increase in the sales tax rate while also supporting a sales tax holiday. O’Malley probably realized the sales tax holiday will help mitigate the damage of his overall tax increases. The chances of an across-the-board tax cut for Maryland taxpayers in the near future are about as likely as George W. Bush moving to Maryland to run against Governor O’Malley. It isn’t going to happen.

While it is understandable that there might be some dissension among legislators and policy experts alike that this holiday does not benefit families and retailers like an across-the-board tax increase, this program is certainly better than no tax breaks during a very deep recession. Working families have been able to save due to the temporary sales tax suspension, and retailers have been able to experience increased sales and revenue. Until the state and local governments decide that permanent tax reforms should be implemented, a sales tax holiday should be an idea that we can all support.

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Clifton Elementary “Thrown Under a Bus” By Josh St. Louis

Despite the bi-partisan protest and community outrage, this summer the Fairfax County School Board voted 7-2 to close Clifton Elementary. Republicanendorsed Liz Bradsher took the most heat in her vote as constituents accused her of failing to save the school in the district that she represents on the School Board. After the vote took place, Delegate Tim Hugo showed extreme dissatisfaction against her vote to close the school, saying, “With her vote, Liz Bradsher threw the children of Clifton and Fairfax County under the bus.”

was that the School Board had no plan for relocating current students into nearby schools. Parents argued that schools where students could potentially be placed already have major overcrowding. They also argued that if a new school built, it could possibly take at least three years before it could serve families, and approval would require a referendum.

I heard the many voices of the Clifton community during the past months. I also heard the voices from other communities to use our resources wisely. These are difficult economic times. This board decision, although most difficult, was made in the best interests of current and future students.

Clifton Elementary has grown much over the years, from starting as a small school in a home in 1868 to today, an awarding-winning school which serves about 400 students in three zip codes. Since Clifton was once a largely rural area, the school was important for families who wanted to ensure that their children received an education. In fact, the school’s history is so rich that it was just nominated to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for inclusion on the U.S. Department of Interior's National Register of Historic Places. Clifton Elementary has also been active in the community over the years, from donating over 5000 sandwiches each year to the local - Springfield District School Board Lamb Center, to collecting over $3000 for a leukemia Representative Liz Bradsher charity from students’ loose change in April of 2009. The school also boasts that nearly 30% of the boys and On August 9th, Friends of Community Schools, a over 60% of the girls who are students at Clifton private non-profit parent group, announced that they Elementary participated in scouting programs. were supporting the parent-driven lawsuit would be filled against the Fairfax County School Board. In their Clifton has also remained one of the county’s highest press release, they said the School Board’s transperforming schools - but such rich history and active gressions were “too great to ignore.” They will be learning environment required renovations. After represented by Patton Boggs LLP, a public policy law nearly a decade of debate, the school board decided firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. Their filing to forgo the renovations and shut down the school, alleges that the School Board exceeded their authority, possibly after the 2011-2012 school year. The vote and “acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and abused its took place on July 8th. While the community was discretion.” The school system has not, in an official outraged at the vote itself, what made matters worse capacity, commented on the lawsuit. Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010


In a bi-partisan effort to show support for Clifton Elementary, Democratic Senator George Barker and Republican Supervisor Pat Herrity, along with 100 people, attended a forum on August 2nd to discuss the community’s options. It was reported that it would cost roughly the same to renovate the school versus building a newer, larger school. Despite this fact, parents and local officials had hoped that Clifton could be saved. "We need to stop taking a number 2 pencil and erasing Virginia history," said Elizabeth Schultz, a Clifton Elementary parent. She also added that it would be the first time in more than a century that the town would be without a school. Despite all of this opposition, Springfield School Board member Liz Bradsher stands behind her vote. “The school had many needs, it was quite expensive to renovate and we had a declining population there. So it came down to not only what was best for the students but what was best for the county,” Bradsher said in an interview with a local newspaper. “It was very emotional, very tough,” she added. “But I do think that we did what we had to do.”

Rumors began appearing on local Northern Virginia Blogs that it has become clear the GOP will not endorse her again for another term on the school board. This as prompted further rumors she is showing interest in running as a Democrat for Supervisor against Republican Pat Herrity.

There was no reason to vote to close the school without resolution on where the Clifton children will go to school, what will happen to the teachers and staff of the school, what will happen to the building if it is closed, and whether or not the school is eligible for federal grant money. In Ms. Bradsher’s own words, "I don't think the public/parents of this county deserve that, do you?" Kim Farrell, Vienna Letter to the Editor, Connection Newspapers August 19, 2010

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VTAG: Expanding Educational Opportunity and Building A More Engaged Citizenry By Jason W. Johnson Ten years ago, I entered my senior year in high school. Like so many college-bound high school students, I knew that a college degree was the key to a successful life, but paying for college seemed to be a daunting task. Scholarships were certainly an option, yet the competition for scholarships was great and, even if I was awarded a scholarship, there were no guarantees that it would be sufficient to cover the cost of tuition and other expenses. Ultimately I was accepted into my “dream school,” a small, private, liberal arts college, Lynchburg College, and was even awarded a generous scholarship. While the scholarship I received helped greatly to offset the cost of my tuition, I needed additional assistance to make college affordable for my family. Fortunately for me—and many high school students desiring a post-secondary education—the academic year, each eligible undergraduate will Commonwealth offers a tuition assistance grant that receive a grant of $2,600. Unlike student loans, The helps to put a private college education within reach State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) of all Virginians. administers VTAG, remitting each qualifying student’s grant directly to the college or university in which the What Is VTAG? student is enrolled on his or her behalf. For the Initiated in 1972, the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant, 2008-09 academic year (the most recent data available on SCHEV’s website), $59,883,208 in state money was commonly known by the abbreviations VTAG, or simply TAG, is “…a program of tuition assistance in the distributed to the 21,038 students who received a form of grants… to or on behalf of bona fide residents VTAG. of Virginia who attend private, accredited and nonFairly or unfairly, private colleges and universities have profit institutions of collegiate education in the Commonwealth whose primary purpose is to provide been stereotyped as exclusive and expensive—bastions collegiate, graduate, or professional education and not of wealth and prestige—where the elite matriculate. to provide religious training or theological education.”1 Conversely, public colleges and universities, with their larger size and lower “sticker price,” are often perceived Thus for only four years of undergraduate study, as more egalitarian and welcoming of students from all Virginia residents who satisfy the eligibility socioeconomic backgrounds. While these stereotypes requirements receive a tuition assistance grant of an might contain an element of truth, they are not amount determined based upon both the amount universally true. Far from a refuge for Sperrys and appropriated by the General Assembly and the number of eligible students. For those reasons, the size of seersucker suits, Virginia’s private colleges and universities are institutions of opportunity, enrolling a the grant varies by biennium, but for the 2010-11 higher percentage of federal Pell Grant recipients than 1 “Tuition Assistance Grant Act,” Code of Virginia § 23-38.12 their public counterparts. Furthermore, of the 21,038 Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010


Even if Virginia’s private colleges and universities were the province of the elite, should VTAG be eliminated? students receiving VTAG in 2008, approximately two-thirds demonstrated a financial need,2 a fact not lost on Dr. Tiffany Franks, president of private Averett University, in Danville, who frequently reminds families that, thanks in part to VTAG, “…a quality education at 3 a private school like Averett is within financial reach.” In summation, although VTAG is not a need-based grant, its largest beneficiaries are not the affluent families. Even if Virginia’s private colleges and universities were the province of the elite, should VTAG be eliminated? Supporters argue that it should not for two reasons: first, it is not aid to an institution, but to an individual and the Commonwealth’s first responsibility is to its people. Second, VTAG serves as a corrective to a market imbalance in the field of higher education. As stated above, public colleges have lower “sticker prices” than private colleges, yet part of the difference is because the Commonwealth subsidizes students in public institutions. Not counting the capital and overhead Virginia incurs to maintain its public colleges and universities; it also pays each school a subsidy of Private colleges and universities also play a critical role $5,500 per student. Economists tell us how subsidies in the Commonwealth’s educational system: space. affect the price of and thus the demand for goods As the demand for post-secondary degrees increase, (e.g. corn); the market for education is no different: the seats in the cheaper public schools are becoming rare, state subsidy makes a post-secondary education at a competition for available seats is becoming more public institution cheaper, thus the demand for this intense and colleges have the luxury of being more cheaper product increases. By offering VTAG, the selective in the admissions process. In part because Commonwealth does not necessarily erase the market of the sheer number of private colleges in Virginia imbalance, but it makes the market less imbalanced. (27 colleges and universities are members of the nonThis, in turn, keeps private institutions operating and profit Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia), ensures greater choice for students and non-traditional many private colleges have available space for aged students seeking a post-secondary education. students “left behind” by the public schools. Private

2 SCHEV Research Report FA TAG-1 3 Tiffany Franks, “Education is Today’s ‘Silver Lining,” Danville Register & Bee, 18 January 2009

colleges’ typically small classes and focus on teaching, as opposed to research (this varies by institution), also serves to boost students who might otherwise have struggled academically. Continued on Page 30 BearingDrift.com / Page 29


VTAG: Expanding Educational Opportunity and Building A More Engaged Citizenry Continued from Page 29 At the start of the 2009-10 academic year, approximately one-third of incoming freshmen who enrolled in a four-year college in Virginia enrolled in a private college or university. Were it not for VTAG, many of these students, who otherwise might be unable to afford an education at a private college, could be unable to pursue the post-secondary education they desired. As Robert B. Lambeth, Jr., President of the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, states: “Virginia’s private colleges and universities provide a lot of educational services to students at a low price.” For many Virginians, VTAG makes this possible.

"No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government." Thomas Jefferson to Hugh L. White, 1810

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The Commonwealth’s second most-famous son, Thomas Jefferson, was not only a vigorous proponent of limited government; he was also an early and outspoken advocate for public support of education. During the American Revolution, Jefferson proposed the “Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge” and proposed a tiered educational system for the Commonwealth. His commitment to education was rooted not just in his personal love of learning, but also in his practical belief that an educated citizenry was essential to the preservation of liberty: “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” As it was true in Jefferson’s day, so it is today: numerous studies have demonstrated that generally, more educated individuals are more politically aware and engaged; when issues arise that they find disconcerting, people with a post-secondary education are more likely to sign a petition, speak at a public hearing and/or personally contact an elected representative. Education truly is the “engine of republicanism” and because of the opportunities VTAG helps to create for thousands of Virginians like me each year, self-government should continue to thrive in the Commonwealth for many years to come.


Virginia Politics on Demand Long Spur School, Bland County, Virginia Photo Courtesy of Christine Distelhorst The Sydenstricker School in Springfield VA was the last one room school house in operation in Fairfax County. It closed in 1939 but the building is still used today as a community meeting hall.

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Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010


On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast with savage force reaching the shore as a Category Three storm with winds up to 125 miles per hour. The nation, and the world, watched in horror as the storm struck the city and as residents were piled inside the New Orleans Superdome even as the winds began to rip off the roof. The resulting storm surge destroyed homes along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast. Much of the natural and man-made barriers along the coast were destroyed. Once the storm passed, the City of New Orleans thought for a brief time that they had been spared. Then the levees broke and nearly 80 percent of the city was flooded. Altogether, the hurricane killed over 1,500 people and caused more than $80 billion in damages. The 350-mile levee system around the City of New Orleans was breached in more than 50 places. As horrible as the damage was, the response, federal, state and local in many cases only made matters worse. Billions of federal dollars have been spent rebuilding the city and the levees. But the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council have expressed their doubts about the rebuilding.

"Rebuilding the New Orleans area and its hurricaneprotection system to its pre-Katrina state would leave the city and its inhabitants vulnerable to similar disasters. Instead, settlement in areas most vulnerable to flooding should be discouraged. ... Furthermore, the 100-year flood level ... is inadequate for flood protection structures in heavily populated areas such as New Orleans, where the failure of the system would be catastrophic." Poor decisions were made at every level of government. Rightly or wrongly, and I believe wrongly, President George Bush suffered the worst in the opinion polls. Before Katrina, Bush still enjoyed decent approval ratings and a Republican controlled Congress. After the storm and the aftermath, he emerged in the eyes of public opinion as a failed President. For the Bush Administration, the response to Katrina was incompetent and the public relations efforts only made things worse. While there was massive leadership failure from Mayor Ray Nagin, to Governor Blanco to the White House, Bush made the mistake of trusting a friend and supporter who was not up the task. Trying to do the gentlemanly thing and encourage a friend who was in over his head, Bush delivered the line “Heck of a job Brownie� that would haunt him throughout the remainder of his Presidency. Brown and his staff were overwhelmed by the intensity of Katrina. And unlike the inspiration he gave from Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11, Bush initially observed the Katrina damage from the air, and later in the week returned to the Gulf to deliver a national address. Regardless of his motivations or how he thought the disaster was being dealt with, he gave the impression that he didn’t care. Continued on Page 34 BearingDrift.com / Page 33


Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years Later – Is it still George Bush’s fault? Continued from Page 33 An article in GQ magazine said that perhaps the delay for military assistance was to be blamed on then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The GQ article, and also an article in The Washington Monthly said that Rumsfeld disagreed with the call for troops and said “I'm going to tell the president we don't need any more than the National Guard."

on Sunday morning, August 28. They packed for two days later and went to stay with relatives in Little Rock.

The Associated Press reported that Governor Kathleen Blanco was playing politics with the reopening of Charity Hospital. The military scrubbed the building to medical-ready standards but Lt. General Russel Honore said that Governor Blanco told him that the hospital would not reopen leading to the assertion that Blanco was delaying the opening to leverage federal funding for a new hospital. FEMA was offering $150 to repair the damaged hospital. Blanco’s administration was allegedly holding out for $492 million for a new hospital.

When the water reached its full depth, the Pastor’s home was under 9 ft. of water. He and his family watched online as the waters slowly receded. And in early October, he finally returned home for the first time.

The stories of government incompetence and inadequate response are many. But they’re not all “George Bush’s fault.”

But he did not stay there. He worked to clean out his home and we were there to help install the sheet rock as his home was being restored.

I’ve had the opportunity to go on two short term mission trips to New Orleans, one in 2008 to do some restoration and just this past February to help renovate a church. On both trips I was amazed at how much work remains to be done. The first trip I worked in the home of a retired consultant turned Pastor. His wife had retired from nursing after 41 years. He told us that he bought his home because he was assured that, while it was less than 100 yards from the canal, it had never flooded. He and his wife left town

Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010

From there they watched as did the rest of the nation as Katrina slammed into the coast and in the first few hours the residents of New Orleans thought they had been spared. Then came the floods.

He told us of how he drove up around 4:30 in the morning and sat in his driveway, waiting for the sun to rise. When daylight came, he went inside and experienced the destruction of all his families’ worldly treasures. There in the silence he sat there and cried.


Every house was searched and marked with with spray paint, showing among other things the date the house was searched and how many bodies were found. "One Dead in Attic" became a common phrase and later a book by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose. His wife spent a day watching us and told us she wanted to learn how to do the work. Both she and the Pastor said that once they were reestablished, they intended to put their tools in their car and help others do the same. The Pastor told us that there was enough blame to go around, from the federal government down to the con artists who came to New Orleans from other cities just to claim the benefits. So it’s a complex issue. Yes, on the one hand, billions of federal, state and local dollars have been wasted through fraud and incompetence. And that doesn’t count the millions (or more) of charity dollars as well as volunteer time invested in the rebuilding of the coast. Still five years later some 60,000 residents have still not returned to their homes. New Orleans is at 80% of its pre-Katrina population. It would seem that recovery would be an easier task if there weren’t so many new threats to come along. In 2008, almost 3 years to the day, Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin shortened his appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, to assist in preparations. In a bizarre twist of fate, or perhaps providence if you’re name is Barack Obama, the beginning of the Republican Convention to nominate John McCain and Sarah Palin was delayed due to the storm. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney canceled their planned attendance and GOP rising star Bobby Jindal missed his opening address at the convention and wisely stayed home to track the path of the storm. In the state of Louisiana, 34 parishes were declared as disaster area. Hurricane Gustav reached the Louisiana coast on the morning of September 1, making landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana.

"Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well." –FEMA Director Michael Brown, Sept. 1, 2005 "I'm going to go home and walk my dog and hug my wife, and maybe get a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita and a full night's sleep." –FEMA Director Michael Brown, on his plans after being relieved from his role managing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, Sept. 9, 2005 Continued on Page 36 BearingDrift.com / Page 35


Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years Later – Is it still George Bush’s fault? Continued from Page 35 As Gustav approached, word from Danielle a friend who was rebuilding after Katrina, said that nerves were on edge in the stores and gas stations on Friday. She tried to convince another woman to share one of the last two cases of water. Then she witnessed a fight at a gas station. For those who lived through the storm five years ago events such as this have to be their worst nightmares. Fortunately for our friend, she and her family made it to a relative’s house in Montgomery.

On an earlier trip before mine, friends met James and Marguerite. Their home like thousands of others had been flooded. When the flooding began James made the choice to stay with the home. By the time the waters reached the house, there was nowhere for him to go but up.

Now, five years later, the Gulf Coast residents live life a little differently. Come this time every August, the pantry is a little fuller, yet the freezer is a little emptier, just in case the power goes out. Bottled water will be stored as well as an extra propane tank for the grill. Families put their business affairs in order. And they wait. They remember the horror of Katrina and they do not want to relive it in the aftermath of another storm.

Months later when our team arrived to do reconstruction work on their home; James was spending most of his time in the tiny FEMA trailer in front of their home. He was so traumatized by his time in the attic that in the months following the storm that he had not been able to bring himself to return to the house. When our team completed the work on the home, they were able to finally take James home, not more than 20 steps to his new front door. James died a few months later. But he had been able to go home again.

I also know that it just doesn’t make good sense to live below sea level. But I have to balance that with not only the richness of the culture and heritage, but with the lives of the people who have lived in New Orleans for generations. It’s easy to sit hundreds of miles away and assess blame. There’s certainly enough to go around. But it’s far too complicated to blame just FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, Mayor Nagin and yes, George W. Bush. It’s a complex story and much went wrong. In spite of all that, I still can’t get away from the personal stories. Sure New Orleans is a city well acquainted with the seedier side of life. Sure after the storm there was looting and corruption. But unlike what we saw on 24-hour news, I believe that to be the exception, rather than the norm.

Volume 1, Number 6 / September 2010

He spent the next four days in the attic before he was rescued. The water was up just below the attic floor. He had no food, no water and he couldn’t get out.


For me, the faces of Katrina are not the images from the television. They are not Ray Nagin, or Kathleen Blanco or even George Bush. For me the faces are the Pastor, Danielle and James. And while I would hope that a catastrophe of this magnitude would never strike us again, and while I would hope that if it did we’d be better prepared to respond, those faces compel us to respond. Politically, Katrina was devastating for George Bush. His Presidency never fully recovered. But it remains to be seen whether another President could have handled it better. As we watch the Obama response to the Deepwater Horizon Spill I’m inclined to say I don’t think so.

BearingDrift.com / Page 37


The Final Ward Snarkery and Cartoons from Ward Smythe & Friends.


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