public education

Even Amidst Vile Arizona Text Book, Liberals Insist Nothing Wrong With Public Education

Wow! The video below is about the most shocking thing — which is saying landfills — I've ever seen or heard regarding public education. It will floor you. If you haven't heard the audio or seen the video yet, or heard media outlets reporting or discussing (debating) it yet, you soon will. It's a case of The Left taking offense at being called extreme and anti-American when its their own words at work. Not much can be added to what you will see. (See The Blaze.com for more on this story.) Here's the background: The Tuscon (Arizona) Unified School District is using a text book for students as early as the 3rd grade, in a course of study called the Ethnic Studies Curriculum, which contains content that not only disparages and lies about America and certain groups of Americans (whites, Christians), but does it in a vile way, including several four-letter words! "Blood sucking capitalists" is about as mild as it gets in this leftist propaganda "text book."

Parents finally confronted the district school board about this recently, a portion of which is on the video. The school board members act as if this is news to them and one doesn't even recognize the irony when he asks a parent to stop reading the offending words at the meeting even though children in school are being subjected to them! Still, liberals and teacher union bosses and political hacks, and their liberal legislative allies at all levels of government throughout the country insist nothing is wrong with public education  . . . except a lack of money (which pays for this trash). Amazing!

Warning: The video below contains coarse and vile language.

Oh, wait. Maybe the public schools  just need more money! That's the answer  . . . it always is!

Family Foundation Day At The Capitol Is Thursday!

The Family Foundation's Annual Day at the Capitol is this Thursday, with an emphasis 0n education freedom — particularly legislation that provides tax credits for private school scholarships. We need to send a loud message to our legislators that, after years of dragging their feet while public education deteriorates (especially for the underprivileged who are trapped in failing schools by an education establishment unwilling to embrace reforms) and options and competition few, educational opportunity for all children is the right choice for Virginia.    Registration for the event, at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, begins at 8:30. The program begins at 9:00 with a briefing  from lawmakers and policy makers, includes a visit with your legislators, and ends with a rally on the Capitol Square grounds. Some of our special speakers include Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson and Family Foundation Chaplain, Bishop E. W. Jackson, Sr.   You will have an opportunity to meet with your legislators, get updates from The Family Foundation staff and enjoy optional tours of Mr. Jefferson's Capitol, the Governor's Mansion and the Virginia Supreme Court during the afternoon. Tours are available on a first come, first serve basis the morning of the event, so if you are interested get to Richmond early.   While our format is a bit different this year, it will be an extremely exciting Lobby Day at the Capitol. Christian and private schools from across the Commonwealth will participate with us. If you are affiliated with a Christian or private school, please share this information with the school and fellow parents and students, and encourage them to send a delegation to support this effort.

If you would like more information about arranging at special tour for your school or about the event, please e-mail amanda@familyfoundation.org or call 804-343-0010. To register online, click here.

American Idiots

Explaining away the performance gap between American public school students and the rest of the world is almost its own industry. Regardless of the measure, the taxpayer propped up education establishment has more excuses than your average high school kid coming in after curfew. Unfortunately for the defenders of the status quo, the data continues to expose the truth. Most American children are being left behind.

In a fascinating article in December's The Atlantic, several economists compared American students by state with students from other countries, side by side. The results make one want to send the teachers unions to the principal's office (except they're in on it, too).

According to the study, when it comes to comparing student proficiency in math, the only colony to even be able to sniff the Top 10 is Massachusetts, coming in at number 17. Virginia is farther down the list, sandwiched between those academic powerhouses Norway and Ireland.

But that's ok, because according to polling done last year at this time, a majority of Virginians "feel" that Virginia's public schools are doing a good or excellent job. Which they are. Compared to say, Lithuania. Or Iowa.

It is likely that this study, too, will be dismissed by the nation's education class. After all, one of the authors of the study, using science, has concluded that "more money does not tend to lead to better results; small class sizes do not tend to improve learning."

Next thing you know he'll start telling us that parents know better about how and where their kids should be educated.

In the meantime, there will no doubt be continued demands for more money to be poured into education system so we can "keep up with the rest of the world" and "compete in the global economy."

And get reelected.

A Floor Not A Ceiling: Governor McDonnell Explains Withdrawal From Race To The Top

Last week, Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew Virginia from the federal government's Race To The Top program (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot), which provides millions of dollars in grant funding to public education. However, the inevitable federal strings come with those millions. In this case, the deal breaker was the adoption of federal academic standards that are weaker than our own Standards of Learning. As the governor told Joe Scarborough on MSNBC yesterday, standards should be a floor, not a ceiling. Of course, the federal government's involvement in local education is a problem in and of itself — good intentions and incentives aside, it shouldn't bribe states and localities with other people's tax dollars for a one-size-fits-all approach. (Instead, how about letting the states — the people — keep the money to begin with, or using the money to balance the budget?) Here's the governor explaining his reasons himself:

Governor McDonnell: Virginia won't be bought off by the feds, not even for a couple hundred million dollars!

Virginia Budget: Is The Hour Near?

Based on dialogue on the House floor this afternoon, it's a 50-50 shot the budget will be agreed upon in time by conferees and printed for a vote tomorrow. It may go to Sunday. Even into next week. Which gives us time to renew our call for no new or additional fees or taxes. However, according to news reports this morning, there may be some backtracking on cutting the much over bloated education spending. Of course, the VEA is making wild claims about thousands of teachers losing their jobs. It must be noted, however, that spending on K-12 education in Virginia has increased 60 percent over the last 10 years while enrollment in public schools has increased only 7.2 percent. In 2004, the General Assembly infused public education with more than a billion dollars in additional funding — remember that tax increase? — with no reforms, and every two years the antiquated funding formula guarantees one billion dollars in extra taxpayer money into public education.

Interestingly, The Family Foundation participated in a poll last year with last year with renown Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and found that a majority of Virginians vastly underestimate the amount of money Virginia spends per pupil on public education. While most thought it was less than $6,000, in fact it is in excess of $11,000 per student!

During the last budget process, as everyone recognized that we were in a deep economic recession, the General Assembly passed a budget based on then-Governor Tim Kaine's projection of significant increases in revenue. Such a notion was rightly dismissed as foolish by some legislators, but a budget laden with spending based on the fictitious numbers passed anyway. Now, we're paying the price in the form of a $4 billion deficit because even though the revenue was projected, the spending was real — Virginia's budget is based on estimated revenue, not actual receipts. So when the real money never showed up . . .

Yet, we're being told by some, we have to pay for their mistakes. The only one who should pay a price in this situation are those who spent the money — not those who supplied it. Tell your delegates and senators not to increase taxes and "fees" in the budget, and to cut its excessive spending to the levels of real revenue.

If you know who they are, you can get their contact info here for delegates and here for senators. If you don’t know who your delegate and senator are, click here.

General Assembly At Crossover: Education Reform

Virginia won't truly prosper until it reforms public education. To do that, massive reforms must be made. We must have education freedom and choice. I like to tell people the analogy economist Walter E. Williams: Suppose your local government drew an arbitrary line around your home and said you can only shop at this one grocery store. How good do you think this store's meats, fish and vegetables would be? What about its service? It's prices? Even the quantity of its stock? With a government contrived monopoly, the answer to all of those questions is, not very.  With that in mind, here's a rundown on education reform legislation we are tracking:

» Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) HB 599 would provide better education opportunities for many Virginia students through scholarships created by funds donated by businesses and individuals which would receive a tax credit for such donations. Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 55-44. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill was crafted in such a ingenious way as to ensure that there will be no negative fiscal impact to the state — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In fact, the bill will increase per pupil spending in school districts that lose students to private schools because they will have the same share of federal and local funds to educate less students.

This is a high priority Family Foundation bill and we are working to get a fair hearing in the Senate Finance committee. Unfortunately, this committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Already this session, it voted 9-6 to defeat similar legislation (SB 133) introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg).

Believe it or not, however, this was progress. Last year, no one on the committee made a motion on Senator Obenshain’s bill. This year, they at least had the courage to go on record!

» A bill patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), HB 331, already passed the House by a vote of 95-4. This charter school bill would provide transparency to the charter school application process, requiring local school boards to provide reasons for rejecting charter school applications. Currently, school boards can reject applications without any notice and without providing reasons. The bill now is in the Senate Education and Health Public Education Sub-committee.

» One of Governor Bob McDonnell’s highest priorities is the expansion of Virginia’s charter schools. Public charter schools were designed nearly two decades ago to empower teachers, parents and communities to come together and create a new form of public school that was free from restrictive regulations and systems. The Family Foundation has made the advancement of charter schools a high priority, as we support any option that will increase parental choice in determining the best educational environment for their child. Unfortunately, Virginia’s charter school law is one of the most restrictive in the nation.

Last week, Governor McDonnell held a news conference announcing legislation concerning charter schools. Senator Stephen Newman (R- 23, Forest) is the patron of SB 737 and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-30, Woodbridge), along with a bi-partisan array of co-patrons, has introduced its House counterpart, HB 1390. These bills seek to make the charter school application process more transparent and requires that the procedures are in place for receiving, reviewing and ruling upon applications for charter schools.

Most significantly, it establishes an appeal process to the state if the local school district rejects the application — which happens with disturbing frequency in Virginia, thus the paucity of charter schools here (three, with a fourth to come, in more than 10 years). Governor McDonnell believes passing this bill would prove Virginia is committed to supporting charter schools and improves its chances for receiving $350 million in federal funding from a multi-billion dollar program President Obama has proposed for charter schools.

» A second McDonnell bill that Senator Newman is shepherding in the Senate and Delegate Richard P. "Dickie" Bell (R-20, Staunton) is patroning in the House, involves virtual schools, which allow public-school classroom programs to be taught in a student’s home via Internet. It meets the same requirements for the student’s attendance, testing and Standards of Learning curriculum that the public school must meet.

» The third bill Senator Newman is carrying would establish "laboratory schools," in which universities set up schools with specialized programs. Delegate Chris Peace (R-97, Mechanicsville) has the House version.

We will work for these reforms and urge you to contact your delegates and senators to do the same. If you don't know your lawmakers, click here to find them. To guarantee to stay on top of these critical issues, which assuredly will shape the Commonwealth's future, click here sign up for our e-mail alerts and forward this link to like-minded friends.

Education Study Provides More Ammunition For Much Needed Reform

Here are more telling details from the education choice polling data and study of which we were a party and released yesterday: Paul DiPerna, research director for The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, wrote in his study that the research indicates:

a major disconnect between Virginia's schooling preferences and actual school enrollments. ... As in other states where we have surveyed, the implication of these results is that Virginia does not have a sufficient school choice system in place to match parents' schooling preferences. (See the entire report here.)

The survey polled 1,203 likely voters and was conducted from October 1-4. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percent points. (See today's Richmond Times-Dispatch for coverage of yesterday's study release news conference.) The results illustrate the vast support in Virginia for a program of income tax credits for donations to scholarship foundations that, in turn, provide funds to qualifying students to attend a school of their choice instead of an assigned public school.

Of course, common sense and public opinion never guarantee a thing, and this issue is living proof — for years the General Assembly has refused to pass legislation to enable such foundations to fully unleash their potential to provide more students better education options. But the results of this study will be a much needed resupply of ammunition that we and several partner organizations will use this coming session and beyond. For example:

» 65 percent of Virginians support tax-credit scholarships, while only 22 percent oppose.

» 57 percent of Virginians favor school vouchers, while only 35 percent oppose.

Even when broken down by party affiliation, Virginians strongly support tax-credit scholarships and vouchers:

» 64 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of independents support tax-credit scholarships.

» 53 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents support school vouchers.

» 81 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents support special needs school vouchers.

Additionally, the favor-oppose margins are large among the parties:

» On tax-credit scholarships, it's +43 among Democrats, +46 among Republicans and +44 among independents.

» On school vouchers, it's +15 among Democrats, +39 among Republicans and +22 among independents.

» On special needs school vouchers, it's +67 among Democrats, +64 among Republicans and +60 among independents.

Education reform will be an issue to watch this session. With school choice a major issue in the recent campaign and a new philosophy at the helm of state government, sound ideas, such as those Virginians overwhelmingly support in this study, may have their best chance in years to get a much needed foothold in Virginia's education system.

What An Honor!

In May, we noticed that none other than Right Wing Watch, the blog of the well known national liberal organization People For The American Way, had commented about us. In fact, it was concerned about the launch of our "Winning Matters" program, which engages pastors to lead their congregations into full participation into the public square. We noted at the time that we must be doing something right if such a large, national organization and RWW were keeping their eyes on us, a lil' ol' state policy organization. So, imagine how we feel now that they've mentioned us again (see here), this time ridiculing Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., for speaking at some of our pastors events around the commonwealth. Wearing this online red badge of courage, we thought we'd report on something they really could chew on.

People For The American Way and other liberal, secular progressives believe, given recent election trends, that the death of Christianity in America is near — or at least we've been minimized to the point of a curious, but irrelevant, nuisance. It's apparent to the collective liberal institutional genius (media, academia, public education, special interest groups, unions, etc.), that many Americans finally are enlightened, no longer hold the traditional values that are the result of one's faith in God, and that the country has reached the Rubiconof a mother state with no looking back (the flipping of conservative Virginia their prize possession).

Those of us who still dare live in the Stone Age are so few in number that we can be essentially forgotten by society and left to dwell in our caves. Finally the progressives can officially progress . . .  

But maybe not. In Roanoke last week, we hosted a pastors event in connection with the Winning Matters 2009 Campaign. Approximately 40 pastors from around the region filled the room and were encouraged, equipped and empowered to continue influencing their congregations and communities on traditional values issues. (For information on other pastor events around Virginia, click here.)

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University's School of Law, reminded them of their personal and congregational rights to speak freely on the issues of the day. Rick Scarborough, of Vision America, challenged them to speak truth to their communities and leaders, as he has done for many years with great success. Family Foundation staff offered practical steps to make their churches more effective voices, including:

» Preaching a citizenship sermon; » Holding a voter registration drive; » Distributing General Assembly Report Cards; and » Distributing voter guides.

Each pastor there decided to stand up and be counted for the cause of Biblical values. They certainly didn't look dead in their passion to make a difference. Besides, even if they were, secular progressives forget that we serve a God who raises the dead. That alone, should give Right Wing Watch plenty to blog about.

History Lesson Not Learned

In school it is taught correctly — well, maybe not anymore, because who knows exactly what passes for public education these days — that for all of FDR's alphabet soup of three letter agencies and programs that nationalized, socialized, institutionalized and otherwise intruded itself into and onto the genius of our there-to-fore free-market economy, none of it got us out of the Great Depression. In fact, it prolonged it. If not for World War II we may never have righted our ship. (Which led to a kook fringe then, too, of people who thought Pearl Harbor was an inside job.) So why do our elected federal officials think that doing the same thing now that failed then, but with a four-letter agency (TARP), will result in a different outcome? Maybe they need to teach the definition of insanity in history class as well.

Great News On School Choice: Virginia's First Charter Elementary School Approved . . . For Now

Congratulations Richmond School Board! You did the right thing and you have our thanks. Last night, after months of wrangling, controversy and approval — only to turn down a flawed contract contrived by the school administration — the board approved by a vote of 5-0 a new, and fair, contract for the Patrick Henry Initiative charter elementary school. The charter elementary school, the first one in Virginia, will emphasize art and science and will be open to all Richmond city elementary school-age students, who must apply for admittance.

Congratulations to Richmond school board member Keith West who carried this to fruition against the greatest of odds and through much travail — he's often outvoted 8-1 — even to the extent of risking no charter school when he killed the first contract because it was a set up for the PHI to fail and thus discredit school choice. But he came back with a new contract and worked with the other board members who conscientiously did the right thing. (West, an education reform and choice advocate, and The Family Foundation, are members of the education reform coalition School Choice Virginia.)

There is one catch to this great news, however, and a big one at that. Notice the vote. Only five of the nine school board members voted. One member was absent, but the other three, who are for the status quo (as if that's working), walked out. (See Richmond Times-Dispatch article here.) Of the five who voted in favor, only two are seeking re-election this November. The next school board could very well vote to cancel the contract — and don't underestimate the power of the teachers union and educrat establishment to protect their monopolistic turf. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.  

In the meantime, we hope the momentum gained from this approval will lead to two things: More charter schools in the commonwealth, now that that other education reformers in Virginia see it is possible. We also hope the General Assembly, in its next session, will update the code of Virginia to allow for an easier, less bureaucratic, less red-tape and less hoop-jumping application process for interested parties willing to create charter schools. These parents and organizations are willing to put themselves under public scrutiny and accountability — something sorely lacking in the teachers union and in many school district central offices — in order to improve educational choice opportunities, competition and excellent education for our children. While they're at it, maybe it can require some of that accountability among the public school educrat establishment.

Listen To This: Tertium Quids Web Radio Interview On School Choice

We've posted a fair amount recently about the charter school situation in Richmond. At first glance, it may seem as if it is a local issue, not much of a statewide concern. But as we pointed out yesterday, reform must start somewhere, and right now a crucial battle with statewide implications is starting in the capital city. The implications for Virginia's urban centers are even more pronounced: If people from all political sides agree education is key for a stable, productive life, especially for those raised in less than ideal neighborhoods, how will they ever get those opportunities if our lawmakers do not provide the alternatives and solutions to such a transparently broken system? As we announced in July, we've joined a new coalition, School Choice Virginia, headed by Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton) to try to bring significant improvement to public education in Virginia. Another organization committed to this is Tertium Quids, which provides a lot of intellectual fire power on this and many other reform issues. Yesterday, on its blog, it announced that it will host a very informative live Internet radio interview with school choice expert Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute, who also is senior fellow on education reform at the Virginia Institute for Public Policy.

The interview is set for Tuesday, September 23, at 10:00 a.m. (read more here). Tertium Quids blogger-in-chief Norman Leahy will ask the questions, especially in the areas of, according to Leahy's post yesterday, "where the movement stands, what needs to happen next, and the best strategies, policies and arguments choice advocates can use to achieve success." All of which is valuable information as we see first hand the obstructionist tactics by Richmond's educrats who are trying to keep out an alternative from their monopoly despite the overwhelming support from Richmond parents and school neighbors.

The Webcast is a call in show and listener input is welcome. Interested people can also e-mail Leahy at nleahy@tertiumquids.org to have their questions asked on the air. If form holds, TQ will archive the interview for those who can't listen to it live. We hope you take the opportunity to further learn about such an important and transcendent issue. 

Virginia Still Without Even One Charter Elementary School!

It's been accurately observed by cultural commentators that the real new year begins each late August or early September — when the school year begins — because so much of our lives really revolve around the ebbs and flows of school. Whether we attend school or work in education ourselves, have children in school or college, or are just college sports fans, the academic calendar — and its ripple affects — dictates much of our living patterns. But alas, nothing is new this school year in Virginia. What was greeted with optimism in May has become a nightmare. Years after the state enacted a charter school law, the city of Richmond was to have started its first charter school and what would have been the state's first charter elementary school. Slower than a snail's pace, but at least a smidgen of education reform and choice. Maybe this would ignite momentum around the commonwealth. The school board voted 5-2 (with an abstention and an absense) to create the Patrick Henry Initiative at the city's old Patrick Henry Elementary School. After months of agonizing detail used by Richmond Public School educrats to sabotage the proposal, the school board trumped RPS with an emphatic vote and overwhelming parent and neighborhood support. The only detail remaining after May was to finalize the contract with the Patrick Henry Initiative.

But who said educrats can't teach? They actually did teach us something after all. If you can't outright defeat a much needed reform, just derail it bureaucratically. Apparently, RPS drew up a contract that was so bad it would do nothing but condemn the charter school to failure (see Times-Dispatch article here). School Board member Keith West, the leading school choice reformer in Richmond and a leader in School Choice Virginia, recognized this and reluctantly voted against the contract when it came up this past Tuesday. His vote ultimately killed the deal.

So Virginia still lacks a charter elementary school anywhere, and the number of charter schools in Virginia is appallingly low. Virginia's charter school law must be amended to make it reasonably efficient to create multiple charter schools in public school districts because the same people who manufacture the bureaucratic hassles that prevent the creation of charter schools are the ones responsible for the public education mess to begin with. Conflict of interest, anyone? It confounds logic how the same people who scream about uncompetitive monopolies, real or imagined, tolerate public education monopolies. How long would you live in a neighborhood that only allowed residents to shop at one grocery store? Not long, because a grocery store with a built in monopoly would have no incentive to provide quality service or goods. Sound familiar?

Help is on the way. It will take time, as the Richmond School Board vote proves. The setback is evidence of the educrats' dug in and fortified redoubts. But you only dig in when superior forces begin to encroach upon your weakly controlled territory. As with all untenable positions, these unnatural fortresses also will  crumble one day.

Oh, Say Does That Green-Spangled Banner Yet Wave At The Watermelon Festival?

It was a gorgeous weekend in Richmond and like 100,000 other Richmonders I brought my husband and two children to Carytown to attend the Watermelon Festival. Since many Richmonders are as proud to host this festival as the Chinese are to host the Olympics, I thought I ought to check it out — plus, Elizabeth Reagan loves watermelon.   Upon my arrival the first thing I noticed was the Planned Parenthood booth and its array of volunteers gathering petition names. My first reaction was disappointment that they continue to have an innocuous presence at many major events but my second reaction was excitement over the paper we will release later in the year exposing that organization for all that it is. Anyway, as our family and some friends made our way to the Boulevard intersection where the festival ended and the main stage was featuring some cover band, we saw a banner over the music stage announcing the day's sponsor:

Mindful of the recent budget crunch, I was immediately consumed by the question of "How many taxpayer dollars were put towards sponsoring the Watermelon Fest — an event that in its beloved state needs no money to continue to exist and serves no state pupose?" Bothered by this thought, I determined that it didn't matter the amount. Not a single dollar should have been spent in this manner. Not just because we have a budget crunch but because it violates the Code of Virginia:  

§ 58.1-4022. State Lottery Fund

E. As a function of the administration of this chapter, funds may be expended for the purposes of reasonably informing the public concerning (i) the facts embraced in the subjects contained in subdivisions 1 through 7 of subsection A of § 58.1-4007 and (ii) the fact that the net proceeds are paid into the Lottery Proceeds Fund of the Commonwealth; but no funds shall be expended for the primary purpose of inducing persons to participate in the lottery.

The Department of the Lottery has gone way off its mission. This banner does nothing to inform its viewers of the facts of the lottery and it is not alone as an example of advertising most reasonable minds would agree is intended to encourage or "induce" people into participating in the lottery (read this commentary by a litigant against the Virginia Lottery). In fact, not long ago, I met a really nice professional gentleman at a luncheon who, when asked his occupation, informed me that he does marketing for the lottery. Because I believe this man does not intend harm and probably does not feel his work runs afoul of Virginia law, I did not discuss it much further but the existence of such a position is disappointing to most Virginians. While most Virgnians support appropriate levels of funding for public education, in the name of "funding education" all things become acceptable.   

Interview With Omarh Rajah: Part 1

There's been a lot of talk about "firsts" this campaign season. But it seems as if Chesterfield County was ahead of the curve last year when voters inits Matoaca District elected Omarh Rajah to its school board. He is the first African-American to hold that position and the first teacher elected from Matoaka. Running for office for the first time, Mr. Rajah unseated the entrenched incumbent, who happened to be the board chairman. He's also an unabashed conservative. Today we are pleased to begin a three-part interview with Mr. Rajah where we asked for his thoughts on a number of education issues, both local and statewide, from his perspective as a school board member of one of Virginia's largest public school systems. In fact, according to its Website, one of the 100 largest in the country. The interview, which was conducted via e-mail, will be posted today through Wednesday. All questions and answers appear as they were submitted.

Mr. Rajah, thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to take some questions from familyfoundation.org. We greatly appreciate you doing this. By the way, you are the first locally elected official to do an interview with us. Congratulations! ; - )

Ready for some questions? Here we go:

familyfoundation.org: When you won election last year, you won on a conservative, traditional values platform in a year that wasn't supposed to be good for conservatives. Yet you unseated the incumbent chairman of all people in your first-ever run for office. What does that say about candidates running on those issues and/or office holders keeping their promises and voting conservative once elected?

Omarh Rajah: First of all, I'd like to thank The Family Foundation for asking me to participate in this interview. Pro-family voters and volunteers made up the backbone of my campaign last year, so it's wonderful to be able to share with you what's happened during my first six months in office.

This is a great question. I think what my election last year shows is that voters respond favorably to traditional conservative values. The key for candidates who support those values is to articulate them clearly for voters to understand what we believe in. In my campaign, that meant a relentless focus on knocking on doors to let voters know I was running to restore morals, values, and principles to our school system (my campaign called me the MVP candidate). It also meant tapping into the incredible network of conservative, pro-family volunteers to knock on doors with me, and it also meant raising the money to send out mail pieces to communicate that message to voters. In a nutshell, we as pro-family conservatives have the right message, we just can't be afraid to communicate it. One thing that proves that is that I carried the traditionally Democratic precinct of Ettrick by about 300 votes, and I did it with the exact same message I talked about everywhere else in the district. The key was that, unlike a lot of candidates in the past, I spent time in Ettrick talking to voters and spreading the message we believe in.

familyfoundation.org: To hear big-government advocates, money is the only thing that matters when it comes to creating a good educational environment. Is money the most important piece of the puzzle? If not, what is, or are, the most/some of the other most important factors?

Omarh Rajah: The most important factor in creating a quality educational system is the involvement of people, starting with parents. Beyond parents, though, it's vital that we attract and retain the highest quality teachers and administrators, both with enough money, but also with a strong, supportive work environment in which they feel their contributions are truly valued. It also takes the support of leaders in the community, be it political leaders, business leaders, civic leaders, etc. That helps create a real sense in the community, and among our children, that education is important to their future and is something they should care about. Children will follow the example adults set for them.

familyfoundation.org: How important is educational choice — such as charter schools, tax credits for private schools, public school choice and keeping home education from getting over regulated — in improving education? Are we doing enough and what will you try to do in Chesterfield to improve choice?

Omarh Rajah: I support choice in our school system. I strongly believe parents should have the right to decide what educational setting is best for their children, be it public schools, private schools, or home schooling, and our government needs to make it easier, rather than harder, for parents to make the choice that's right for their family. On a policy level, one way to accomplish that is for the money to follow the child, in other words, for parents who feel private schools or home schooling is best for their child to receive tax credits to offset their educational expenses. As a member of the School Board, my job is to make sure our public schools are as strong as possible for those children whose parents feel that is the best option. I believe strongly in public education. I'm a product of public schools, as is my wife, and our children are both in Chesterfield County Public Schools. That's why I ran for the School Board — to make sure our Public Schools here in Chesterfield are as strong as possible for my children and for all the other children whose parents have chosen that option.

familyfoundation.org: Virginia's charter school law is very limited. Other states have a wide ranging approach. What would you like to see done to improve and expand charter schools in Virginia?

Omarh Rajah:In Chesterfield, we have high school specialty centers that draw students who, in addition to taking the traditional high school curriculum, also have certain interests and wish to study those interests with other students who share them. For example, one high school has a technology focus, another has a pre-engineering focus, etc. These schools draw students from all over the county, not just those who live within that school district. I think that's a tremendous idea that other large school systems with multiple high schools should seriously consider if they are not already doing so. While these are not the same as charter schools, I believe they provide a real option to help students get the best possible educational experience. With regards to charter schools, I believe that they are an option school systems should consider for students who are struggling in their current environment. Any changes to existing law would probably need to be done at the state legislative level, but I would do all I could personally to support those efforts.

Reworking A Bad Plan Can Make It Worse (Or, The Son Of 3202 Rises)

The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly resumes tomorrow and anything can happen. Some capitol insiders are predicting the session could end by the end of the day, with nothing done. That would be good. Some think the House could pass some watered down Senate tax increase, send it back to Senate Majority Leader Dick "The People Will Pay" Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) and his crowd down the hall, who will change it and take it to a conference committee, which would be dangerous enough. But others think that if anything gets out of the House, Senate Dems will pass it immediately and let Governor Tim Kaine amend it to include all the extra taxes his heart desires (we'd say that would be Christmas in July for the liberals, except many don't believe . . . oh, never mind) and send it back for an up or down vote. If that version passes, it would be a Kaine victory at the expense (literally) of the public; a taxpayer loss. If nothing happens, believe your bottom dollar (that may be all you have left right now) that the governor and the Dems will demonize conservatives as not wanting to address the transportation "crisis." 

They better be careful for what they ask. It may be anecdotal, but evidence is the public, across all lines, doesn't seem to have much of an appetite for tax increases when gas is at $4.00 a gallon and all the ripple effect cost increases it is causing. Senator Saslaw during the regular session was fond of saying that his gas tax increase would cost the equivalent of one Big Mac meal per year. Actually, it was closer to a Ruth Chris dinner, but regardless, most families don't even have a Big Mac to cut back right now.

Not only that, but his proposal in the winter was a 5-cent increase over five years. Now, I guess because he wants us to cut back on apple turnovers, too, his bill would increase the gas tax by six cents over six years (SB 6009). That's a 35-percent increase. It doesn't appear as if this will pass. The House Republican leadership let it come to the floor in a procedural move in committee to force House Dems to vote on recordin anticipation of next year's House elections. The money is on many House Dems getting cold feet on this one.

However (there's always a "however"), the House GOP doesn't want to get left out of the game. They want to be sure no one can claim they have no ideas themselves, so instead of no ideas they are proposing old and bad ideas. They want to "fix" the aspect of last year's transportation package (HB 3202) that the Virginia Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. This new package, HB 6055, patroned by Delegate Phil Hamilton (R-93, Newport News) is more complex, but is also harmful to taxpayers and the economy. Its main feature is to give local governments in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia taxing authority in certain areas so as to spend it themselves for transportation, rather than the original, and unconstitutional, law that let unelected boards tax and spend. (To be fair, the original bill passed by the House in 2007 was to give local governments the authority; the governor amended it to give it to the unelected boards, and bipartisan majorities in the General Assembly concurred.)

While many legislators may make the political calculation that by "simply fixing" last year's plan (by voting for HB 6055) Virginians won't consider it a vote to raise taxes, they may be calculating wrong. People want the General Assembly to make hard decisions instead of asking for more money from families — again. Smart citizens know fixing a bad plan often makes it still worse. 

Among the various taxes in HB 6055 is one particularly heinous tax — a $.40 per $100 increase in the "grantor's tax" in Northern Virginia. This is a tax home sellers pay at closing. As home sales continue to plummet, and some of those sales are "short" (sold for less than what is owed on it), such a tax is reckless. 

Earlier this month, while detailing the state's current financial picture, Secretary of Finance Jody Wagner revealed a devastating downward trend in home sales to the House Appropriations Committee. At the time, several Republicans appropriately drilled Secretary Wagner regarding Governor Kaine's transportation proposal that included a grantor's tax. It would be peculiar for those same legislators to agree to one now, but this is the General Assembly, after all. Regardless of whether the tax is introduced by Democrats or Republicans, the governor, the Senate or the House, the effect on the housing industry is the same — it will ensure a housing recession.

HB 6055 also includes a $20 increase in the car inspection fee in Hampton Roads, an extra $100 fee on those who receive their first drivers license (in N.Va.), a hotel tax (N.Va.) and a rental car tax (in both areas), among others. Americans For Tax Reform mailed each legislator who signed its No Tax Pledge that a vote to pass the tax-increasing buck to localities is still a tax increase and violates the pledge.

Four years ago, then-Governor Mark Warner cited education, health and public safety to pass the largest tax hike in the Commonwealth's history. Apparently, in 2004, transportation was no longer the "crisis" Warner had said it was in 2002 when he tried unsuccessfully to pass regional sales tax hikes for transportation via referenda in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. Now, Governor Kaine and some allies in the legislature have decided to dust off the transportation "crisis" to raise taxes. This action comes only a few months after they proposed raiding the Transportation Trust Fund for non-transportation expenditures.

Some of the same lawmakers who opposed a constitutional amendment restricting the Transportation Trust Fund to transportation-only spending now support a tax hike.  Even Governor Kaine, prior to his election, endorsed a "lock-box" to secure transportation funds from general fund spending and tax increases. Three years later, he has done nothing to support efforts to secure one. So what we're left with is a thinly veiled attempt to raise taxes on Virginia's families simply to raise money, not specifically for transportation. 

Besides that, it appears HB 6055 is more flexible than a Russian gymnast. Specific projects are to be carried out "in consultation with members of the General Assembly" — whatever that might mean. Sadly, the level of linguistic complexity required to raise some taxes in some areas, that affect only some people in order to fix some transportation needs, all while appearing as if no taxes are being raised, makes for a legislative nightmare.     

The bottom line is that for over a decade the General Assembly has bowed to the powerful education union and funded public education incorrectly, refused to reduce spending in pet projects, and counted on Virginians to pony up under the threat of disaster. If this mentality doesn't change now, in difficult economic times, what will it be like in good times? Believe me, it will be Bonnie and Clyde all over again, with a new crisis (health care or Medicare, perhaps?) and guess who they think is the bank?

The good news is that this can be stopped. Many legislators are being pressured by big-time lobbyists of big businesses who will benefit from government spending, from the teachers union which wants to ensure their portion of the pie isn't touched, and other special interest groups. But when enough concerned voters let their senators and delegates know enough is enough, it gives them the courage to resist the special interest pressures (click here to contact them). Instead of raising taxes, it is time for them to get some new ideas, such as comprehensive spending and budget reform.

The Great Divide

The MSM in Virginia is today talking up a Virginia Commonwealth University poll taken recently that provides some "surprising" results in light of the upcoming special Tax Session of the General Assembly. According to the poll, the issue the general public says should be the top priority of state government is, drum roll please — not transportation.

Its public education. Followed by jobs. Followed by the environment.

Oh, then comes transportation — nearly tied with illegal immigration.

Now, the environment, transportation and immigration are really in a statistical dead heat, but given all the political rhetoric concerning the "transportation crisis" one would think it would top the list. And while politicians in Virginia scramble for "solutions" to the "crisis" as they prepare to invade Richmond next month, Virginians don't appear to be on the same page — either with the level of concern or the with ways to fix whatever problem exists. 

Now, one can argue over the implications of any poll. And taking this one too far and ignoring transportation altogether would not be a smart move either. 

Yet, the divide between our elected officials and the concerns of citizens seems to grow each and every day. Anyone who has spent time in Richmond knows how quickly legislators can lose touch with what people really care about. Too often their only information comes from "special interests" (oh yeah, we be one of 'um) and the media. In the case of transportation there are two clear drivers — much of the business community in Virginia who are once again pushing tax increases on consumers, and politicians who simply want more revenue to spend (Dick Saslaw are you listening?) and will use any issue to push higher taxes. Citizens are not behind the wheel of this one (OK, enough with the puns).

But as we've said in previous posts: The June 23 special session isn't really about transportation. It is about taxes — more specifically, raising them. The revenue increases that will result are in no way promised to future road repair or building. They will just mean more money for politicians to spend on the next "crisis."

And the Great Divide gets even wider.

Senator Obama Sees Ghosts (Or, He Needs To Read Familyfoundationblog.com)

We realize the nomination for the Democrat presidential nomination is a tooth and nail fight, but if Senator Barack Obama really is the presumptive nominee, why is he trying to one-up rival Senator Hillary Clinton? You may remember during her First Lady days (I know, we try not to remember) she channeled Eleanor Roosevelt. As of yesterday, in New Mexico, Senator Obama had his own paranormal experience. Of course, he should have super powers since he's the Democrat "messiah" according to Chris Matthews and other liberal lightweights. Speaking to a Memorial Day gathering in Las Cruces, he said:

On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience today . . . . (See the video for yourself, here.)

He then went on to talk almost entirely about veterans. This man, who wants to be Commander-In-Chief, is either clueless and does not not know the meaning of Memorial Day or sees ghosts. Predictably, only the conservative blogosphere and talk radio have picked up on this. That's okay, senator, you may be able to see ghosts, but the public finally is seeing right through your transparent self. 

The senator surely has a gift, alright, and he keeps giving it. Instead of "messiah" we should call him the "The Gift That Keeps On Giving" because he continues to gaffe. Hey senator, read our our post from yesterday! Memorial Day honors those who gave themselves up in battle for our country, not living veterans!  

Is this what we're getting from our public education theses days?

Could anything have better proven our point? Would it even be fair to ask the senator who Veterans Day honors?

More Truth About State Government

Yesterday, we posted our reasons to oppose Governor Tim Kaine's tax increase plan (and all tax increase plans) at the upcoming (June 23) Special Tax Session of the General Assembly. But there are other reasons to reject tax hikes for transportation (not to mention that the Governor Kaine apparently is not even considering our Lottery Ticket Increase plan even though others of high intellectual esteem are). But the primary reason is the new third rail of politics — education funding. During the General Assembly's regular session, the biannual "re-benchmarking" of the Standards of Quality resulted in a $1.1 billion increase in education spending in the new budget. (Click here to read our previous commentary on the educrat revolt to SOQ reform.) What does "re-benchmarking of SOQs" mean? A convoluted formula that automatically ensures that Virginia's public school establishment will receive at least a billion more dollars every two years, regardless of student outcomes or reductions in enrollment. That spending goes up no matter what. By continuing with this system, public education is assured of securing funds at the expense of other core budget items (public safety, transportation, etc.). Any legislator who is honest will tell you that there is absolutely no way to fund this annual education increase and the rest of state government without some type of massive, statewide tax increase. 

So here we are. In fact, do you know how much spending increased on transportation in the recently passed new budget? Zero. Not a penny. Zilch.

Why? Because as long as the SOQ funding formula remains unchanged, every other area of state government, including transportation and public safety, will get short changed. (Of course, the Virginia Education Association was one of the first to publicly endorse the Governor's plan.)

This year, The Family Foundation supported a short-lived proposal to adjust the SOQ formula slightly, which would have in no way directly affected what is spent in the classroom. But such a change would have saved $200 million per year. That nearly half billion dollars every biennium would go a long way toward fixing the transportation "crisis" Governor Kaine alleges needs immediate action.

Because The Family Foundation has opposed increases in taxes over the years, we have gained a reputation as being "anti-tax." That is not the case. We simply want our state government to be more responsible in how it spends our money before it comes to working families asking for more.