The Virginia legislature is, once again, in session. Here is my take on various education-related bills.
1. SOL (Standards of Learning) Testing Reform Bill: Unfortunately, I can't locate the legislation for this bill (or bills--there are 11), but I couldn't be happier that this legislation is in the works and that it has such wide and bi-partisan support. It's not the end of what should be done to fix Virginia's accountability structure but it's a start. Among other changes, the bill would reduce the number of SOL tests from 34 to 26 and call for more authentic and higher quality assessments. Two caveats:
a. The Virginia Board of Education and some folks at Virginia's Department of Education are claiming that Virginia's newer SOL tests, for example the math ones, are already of higher quality:
Virginia's Board of Education has revised its tests so they are more reflective of what students need to know to attend college or begin an entry-level job, said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Education Department.
Many of the state's new online tests include "technology-enhanced items" that require students to think critically and solve problems. The more rigorous tests caused scores to drop around the state.
Greason applauded the work the state has been doing and said the legislature would build on those reforms and codify them.
From what I can tell, the new tests are the same old stuff with some added bells and whistles. The reading test is still a disaster, "technology-enhanced" test items does not a critical thinker make, and these tests are not more rigorous, but are rather more tricky. Merely having twenty-six SOL tests akin to the newer ones is not progress in my book.
On Monday night, I attended a program in Arlington, Virginia about an impending U.S. Forest Service decision on whether to allow fracking and horizontal drilling for natural gas in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. As the organizers of the program explained, fracking in the George Washington National Forest "could threaten a range of resources - including the headwaters of the Potomac River, the D.C. area's major drinking water source."
I wrote yesterday about Sister Maureen Fiedler's work on fighting to bring the Bluegrass Pipeline to "something of a standstill." Now, I want to focus on a talk by Nicole Condon, Water Communications Coordinator at the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority ("DC Water"). Condon made a few important points about the potential risks for the DC metropolitan area's water supply from fracking the George Washington National Forest.
Given that the Potomac River is our "sole drinking water source," that the GW National Forest is "in our headwaters," and that forested areas "are extremely important for downstream water quality," there are "a lot of uncertainties that really need to be addressed before we can feel good about something like [fracking to be] happening in our headwaters."
"If contamination were to occur, we may be unable to determine what chemicals are involved," and that uncertainty makes it "extremely difficult to prepare for any kind of response in the event that these chemicals were to get into the water." In general, given the lack of information, it is "difficult to understand what the risk may be to our water supply."
"Until it can be proven that hydraulic fracturing will not have a negative impact on our drinking water supply, we want the Forest Service to exercise caution" and will continue to support "a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing in the GW National Forest."
Industry argues that a 15-year moratorium is too long, but DC Water believes that "15 years is a pretty small amount of time when you start thinking about some of the long-term impacts that could potentially occur in some kind of contamination issue or spill."
"The quality of our product and the health of our customers is our top priority."
Here are a few Virginia and national news headlines, political and otherwise, for Wednesday, January 29. Also, check out the "enhanced" video of President Obama's State of the Union speech last night. Personally, I liked parts of it, didn't like other parts (e.g., the glaring contradiction between his "all of the above" energy strategy and the urgency he professed to do something about climate change); overall, I'd say it was kinda...meh. And, of course, Republicans are an almost completely obstructionist, reactionary force at this time, so good luck getting anything even half decent through Congress. Sigh.
Here's Sen. Tim Kaine laying out his expectations for the 2014 State of the Union Address. Key words: "Candid, practical and optimistic." Personally, my #1 priority is climate change, and specifically what we're going to do about it. What would you like to hear tonight?
When I ran for Virginia House of Delegates in 2009, Alan Howze was one of my Democratic primary opponents and I told campaign volunteers at the time that if I hadn't been running, I'd have voted for Alan. Considering the winner of that primary, Patrick Hope, has been a great delegate and one of Virginia's most progressive state legislators, that's saying something.
Since then, Alan has worked as a certified home energy auditor providing residential energy audits & efficiency improvements, served as president of the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls Civic Association, and has been active in the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Plus - and totally seriously most importantly - he was a supporter of Westover Beer Garden in its battle to protect fun from overzealous county regulators.
Great speech yesterday by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, as the debate over marriage equality - and specifically whether or not Attorney General Mark Herring should defend the anti-gay-marriage amendment to the Virginia Constitution - rages on. Also note that Del. Filler-Corn spoke after Del. "Sideshow" Bob Marshall (R-Manassas), a rabid homophobe and co-author of Virginia's anti-gay-marriage amendment (also the exact opposite of the young, tolerant generation Del. Filler-Corn references), gave a speech about impeaching Attorney General Herring for his stance against bigotry in Virginia.
I couldn't agree more with what "Inside Charlottesville" host Coy Barefoot has to say here. Dominion Virginia Power represents everything wrong with Virginia's government, and cries out for strong ethics reform. As it stands now, Dominion gives enormous sums of money (nearly $9 million since 1993) to Virginia lawmakers of both parties (53% to Republicans, 44% to Democrats), to buy them all off. And what does Dominion get in return? All kinds of things, including...well, basically anything and everything they want. Such as no serious, mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard; no serious net metering; no serious decoupling; no serious efforts to stop Dominion from poisoning our planet; etc, etc.
And now, as Coy Barefoot correctly points out (see the Washington Post story here), the bought-and-paid-for Virginia General Assembly "is allowing Dominion to WRITE OFF investments in infrastructure so as to give them tax credits so that (on paper at least) they can avoid it looking like they've made as much profit as they really have- because if they actually did, they'd have to give a refund to their customers and they couldn't raise raise rates." Yes, it's "an unfair advantage." Yes, it's "corporatism" at its sordid, slimy worst. And yes, it's "corruption," which the utterly lame "ethics reform" package Bill "ALEC" Howell et al. have proposed wouldn't even come close to stopping.
(Note: The information below is simply a rumor I have heard. It hasn't been verified, but it's interesting, nonetheless.)
Many of us have been wondering just what the DPVA will look like and how it will be functioning as we approach the November 2014 elections for the House of Representatives and the re-election of Sen. Mark Warner, given the resignations of the Executive Director, the Political Director, and the Chair. As you know, Charniele Herring is resigning to run for the 8th District seat being vacated by Jim Moran. That leaves a vacancy that needs to be filled as soon as possible, so that the DPVA can hire staff, especially a new Executive Director.
I have heard that Del. Herring will continue to see that the Chair's duties are fulfilled, pending the election of a new Chair at the March Central Committee meeting. I also have heard that the selection of a new ED will be done by the incoming Chair with Steering Committee approval, which makes much more sense than Del. Herring selecting the ED.
Perhaps the best news I have gotten, if it is accurate, is that the election of the Chair is open at present, not a "done deal" as has been the practice so often in the past. So, if that is true, who would you like to see as the next Chair of the DPVA? One name occurred to me - Aneesh Chopra. Any other ideas?
And with "Landslide Lynwood" Lewis' 11-vote victory in the special election to replace Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw can now fulfill his vow to "redo that whole damn joint!" :)
This endorsement says so much, on so many levels, none of it good about today's extremist, wacked-out Republican Party. It used to be that the GOP was full of reasonable, responsible, serious statesmen like John Warner. Heck, it used to be that the GOP was full of progressives, believe it or not. But today? It's more like the John Birch Society, combined with the McCarthyites and a heaping helping of Pat Robertson's wing of the party. In such a GOP, what place does someone like John Warner have? I can't think of one. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is about as centrist as can be, in agreement on almost every issue with the majority of Americans if you look at the polling. Still, it's amazing that "John not Mark" is now endorsing Mark over Ed Gillespie. On the other hand, I see that Mark "Criminalize Miscarriages" Obenshain is endorsing Gillespie. Actually, that proves my point perfectly. :)
With the Democratic caucus to select our nominee for Arlington County Board just days away (it's being held this Thursday evening at the Key Elementary School, and 11 am-7 pm Saturday at Kenmore Middle School), Democratic candidate Alan Howze has received an important endorsement.
The Sierra Club is pleased to announce its endorsement of Alan Howze in the Democratic Caucus on January 30 and February 1 for the the Arlington County Board.
Running in a strong field, we are endorsing Mr. Howze given his depth of knowledge and understanding of the key environmental issues facing the County, including his support of the Columbia Pike streetcar, which the Sierra Club supports as vital to the future of the growing community along Columbia Pike. In endorsing Mr. Howze, we recognize that such a significant investment in transit will require close monitoring by the County Board and its staff. We applaud Mr. Howze all the more for so clearly outlining the long-term benefits of the streetcar, which the Sierra Club views as the defining transit investment in Arlington - perhaps as significant to the County in promoting smart growth as Metrorail was to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor a few decades ago.
I've been trying to decide between Alan Howze and Peter Fallon for my #1 and #2 picks, as I find each of them to be impressive for different reasons (note: Arlington Democrats are using Instant Runoff Voting, so you get to rank your candidates). However, this endorsement of Howze by the Sierra Club - combined with Howze's strong answer on his progressive values in his Patch interview - has combined with considerations of electability (I'm very concerned about the general election, and believe that Howze has shown a far greater ability than Fallon to run an effective political campaign) definitively made up my mind that I'm going to vote Howze #1 and Fallon #2.
Note that even though there are three candidates, I'm only voting for two, NOT three. There are strong reasons for this decision, namely:
*I normally am enthusiastic for new people/faces coming into the Democratic Party (e.g., Wesley Clark, Jim Webb), but Cord Thomas is automatically eliminated - and should be by all Arlington Democrats - for several reasons (see my post here for detail). First off, he has shown no history whatsoever of involvement in Arlington politics or civic life (other than working "100 hours a week" as a businessman, which is great, but not a qualification for this position per se).
Here are a few Virginia and national news headlines, political and otherwise, for Monday, January 27. By the way, I only have one comment for the "draft resolution of impeachment against Mark Herring": hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
I'm not a big fan of "60 Minutes," but this is a powerful story that's well worth watching. More importantly, it's well worth watching and then taking ACTION to rectify the glaring, unacceptable shortcomings in this country's mental health care system. We can start right here in Virginia (and yes, that most definitely includes expansion of health care coverage via Medicaid expansion, restoration of mental health funding that was foolishly cut, etc.). Thanks to Creigh Deeds for speaking out courageously so that what happened to his son (hopefully) doesn't happen to anyone else!
As you're probably aware, the far-right, theocratic, and otherwise cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs wing of the Virginia Republican Party is in full meltdown mode over Attorney General Mark Herring's gay marriage announcement the other day. Case in point: Ken Cuccinelli's Facebook page, and specifically the comments in reaction to his posting of the image to the far right (appropriately enough) of this post. Check out a few examples of the insanity below, not to mention the utter idiocy (e.g., English grammar totally optional and typos mandatory, such as spelling "liar" as "lier;" "riddled" as "riddeled;" "election" as "Ellection;" "Presidential" as "Presidental;" "break" as "brake;" etc.; etc.) and anti-LGBT hysteria. Craaaaaaaazy!
Allegations of Democrats Stealing the Election via "Voter Fraud," etc. *"i knew this was going to happen the moment i saw how the elections were riddeled with voter fraud. they wish to push their anti gun, pro abortion and pro gay agenda as quickly as possible."
*"I would not be surprised if these elections were rigged. Obama, was not elected with majority."
*"We MUST clean up VOTER FRAUD=NOW, BEFORE the Upcomeing Nov. 2014 Election's, & the 2016 Presidental Ellection!!! NOW!"
*"if we do not stand to liberals and their affinity to brake the law and cause voter fraud we will have a divided and destroyed United States."
*"Thank God Glenn Beck exposed the fraud between Libertarians and the Democrats."
*"DC has taken over our state and I think the election here in NOV. was all about FRAUD !!!!!"
Northern Virginia Needs to Go! *"Man, what a sad time for VA. It sickens me to see such a great state turning into one of the liberal petri dishes of the north. NOVA just needs to be given to DC."
*"If Fairfax would join DC and leave Virginia we would be a much different state ... large percent of people in N VA are imports and bring the NJ NY mindset with them ....."
*"Can the Commonwelth rid Themselves of Fairfax and Arlington counties then we would be Red Again need to start a remove Northern VA from the rest of VA."
*"Take Arlington and separate it from the rest of the state and give Arlington to DC. Problem solved."
The purpose of Blue Virginia is to cover Virginia politics from a progressive and Democratic perspective. This is a group blog and a community blog. We invite everyone to comment here, but please be aware that profanity, personal attacks, bigotry, insults, rudeness, frequent unsupported or off-point statements, "trolling" (NOTE: that includes outright lies, whether about climate science, or what other people said, or whatever), and "troll ratings abuse" (e.g., "troll" rating someone simply because you disagree with their argument) are not permitted and, if continued, will lead to banning. For more on trolling, see the Daily Kos FAQs. Also note that diaries may be deleted if they do not contain at least 2 solid paragraphs of original text; if not, please use the comments section of a relevant diary. For more on writing diaries, click here. Thanks, and enjoy!