Weekly Column: Leveling the Digital Playing Field in Virginia's Schools
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of December 2, 2013:
As more and more content goes digital, it has begun to affect our schools. Textbook publishers have begun to design instructional systems - also called "electronic textbooks" to deliver instruction to children.
These systems range from relatively static electronic books like you can find on a Kindle all the way to fully interactive learning systems with embedded video, links to external content, and interactive homework modules with extra questions for student struggling with specific concepts.
It is also virtually impossible to find a well-paying job in today's world that does not require computer literacy. Performing car repairs or running a cash register requires digital literacy.
In late 2012, I attended a Mt. Vernon District Education Town Hall Meeting. The crowd was largely upper middle class and not diverse. Many parents were unhappy about the functionality of new online textbooks deployed in the 2012-2013 schools year by Fairfax County Public Schools. I was familar with these systems because my third grader is even now doing her math homework using an "electronic textbook."
After having knocked 12,000 doors in my district and having seen trailers and apartments without home computers or seeing five children crowded around one machine dominated by the oldest child, there was one issue rolling around in my head - access. While many people have smart phones today, thousands of low income families in Northern Virginia and especially in areas like the U.S. 1 Corridor do not have home computers and cannot afford broadband. More broadly, the lack of digital literacy due to income disparities has been dubbed The Digital Divide. It is a material factor right here in our community and all over the United States and here in Virginia in all areas - urban, suburban, and rural.
In 2013, twelve main-line Fairfax County Schools failed accreditation. Half of those schools are in the U.S. 1 Corridor in the 44th District. Five were elementary schools that failed solely because of their Science scores. The Standards of Learning Science test was a new version that required students to test on a computer, but not filling in blanks or doing checkboxes - but by manipulating information using a mouse and keyboard. Children from low income families do not have the same computer skills as children from Great Falls and it stuck out like a sore thumb in the test results.
This also plays out in admissions to magnet schools like Thomas Jefferson which has only two percent students who qualify for free and reduced lunches and overwhelmingly excludes African American and Hispanic children.
In 1904, Virginians constitutionalized the principle that no child should receive a substandard education due to their family's economic circumstances. Article VIII, Section 3 of the Constitution of Virgnia provides that "The General Assembly shall . . . ensure that textbooks are provided at no cost to each child attending public school whose parent or guardian is financially unable to furnish them."
|Delegate Scott Surovell, Delegate Kaye Kory, Cameron Coleman |
from Carl Sandburg (at podium) and two other middle school kids.
In order to meet our constitutional obligations, I introduced legislation in the 2013 General Assembly Session that would have prohibited any school system from deploying online textbooks
unless they can ensure every child has their own computer and a broadband connection at home.
Three Fairfax County Public School students from different high school pyramids testified about fellow students who did not have computers and having to do research or other tasks after waiting in lines at public libraries.
The legislation was referred to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS)
where three hearings were conducted over the last year. On November 26, 2013, JCOTS recommended that amended legislation be forwarded to the General Assembly for adoption.
The amended legislation requires any school system that wants to use online textbooks to have a plan in place that ensures every child in its system will have a home computer and broadband connection by July 1, 2017. It also authorizes pilot programs under certain circumstances. Chesterfield County is currently bidding out a contract
to provide computers to every child from 6th through 12th grade. The cost is about $330 per child or about 2% of the $13,472 that Fairfax County currently spends on each ch
Passage of this legislation will take a step to ensure that every child will continue to have the same access to educational materials regardless of their family's circumstances. If adopted, it will also start the process of assuring that every child in Virginia has a computer and broadband so that they can be fully prepared to compete in the 21st Century economy.
Surovell & Ebbin Launch Effort to Repeal Hybrid Tax
Last year, the General Assembly adopted a $100 per year tax on hybrid vehicles as part of our the transportation funding legislation.
Senator Adam Ebbin and I started an effort to repeal this tax which resulted in over 7,300 Virginians signing a petition urging the veto of the tax. Governor McDonnell eventually reduced it to $64.
I wrote about it here:
Today, Senator Ebbin and I introduced legislation to repeal the tax. Our press release is below.
*****FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE*****
November 18, 2013
Contact: Senator Ebbin – Sam Bosch571.384.8957
Contact: Delegate Surovell - Megan Howard
DELEGATE SCOTT SUROVELL AND SENATOR ADAM EBBIN INTRODUCE BILLS TO REPEAL VIRGINIA TAX ON HYBRID VEHICLES
Legislators say tax on technology punishes drivers who choose to do the right thing
November 18, 2013. Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Delegate Scott A. Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) filed legislation on Monday to repeal the recently enacted $64 per year tax on hybrid vehicles. The bill are numbered House Bill 4
and the Senate Bill number is pending.
Virginia's annual tax on hybrid vehicles was enacted in the 2013 General Assembly Session as part of House Bill 3202 (HB3202). A $100 tax was originally proposed by Governor Robert McDonnell, but was omitted from both versions of HB3202 passed by the House of Delegates and State Senate before reappearing in the Conference Committee version of the legislation. After more than 7,300 Virginians signed an online petition calling for the repeal of the hybrid tax at www.nohybridtax.com
Governor McDonnell successfully proposed a reduction of the tax to $64 per year as part of a broad package of amendments to HB3202.
"The hybrid tax punishes Virginians who choose to do the right thing," said Delegate Surovell, "it is a tax on virtue." "Hybrid owners already pay higher personal property and titling taxes in addition to paying more for their vehicles in order to be good environmental stewards. They also already do pay gasoline taxes." said Senator Ebbin.
According to the Michigan Transportation Institute
, the average fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in the United States was 24.9 miles per gallon in the United States in 2013. The average MPG of a 2013 Toyota Prius is 50 MPG. A Prius driven 15,000 miles would consume about 200 fewer gallons per year than an average vehicle and pay about $25 per year less in gas taxes (at a rate of $0.125/gallon). Many hybrids get much worse gas mileage, including the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid that averages only 20 MPG. The Tahoe owner pays more in gas tax than the average gas-only vehicle, and
also currently pays an additional $64 annual hybrid tax.
Ebbin said that “The mileage of both hybrids and non-hybrids vary significantly. There are gasoline-only autos that get better mileage than some hybrids, and some hybrids, including SUVs, that do not get mileage as good as many gas-only powered cars.”
"By setting a fixed tax and focusing on a specific technology instead of gas mileage, this tax is out of touch with the fiscal realities of driving," said Delegate Surovell. "It discourages people from making fuel efficient purchases."
People interest in signing Senator Ebbin and Delegate Surovell’s petition urging the repeal of the hybrid tax pay still do so at www.nohybridtax.com
Repeal of the tax generated bipartisan support during 2013 House of Delegates campaigns. Republican Delegates Tim Hugo, Barbara Comstock and House Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Rust all called for elimination of the annual tax.
# # #
Reference:US Department of Energy’s website (fueleconomy.gov)
Sample of Four of the Lower Mileage Hybrids getting less than 30 mpg:
Lexus LS 600h L (20 MPG)
GMC Yukon Hybrid (21 MPG)
Toyota Highlander Hybrid (28 MPG)
Chevy Malibu Hybrid (29 MPG)
Sample of Higher Mileage Gasoline Engines:(all getting at least 30 MPG)
Chevrolet Cruze Eco (31 MPG)
Chevrolet Sonic (31 MPG)
Fiat 500 (30 MPG)
Ford Focus (31 MPG)
Ford Fiesta (33 MPG)
Honda Civic (32 MPG)
Hyundai Accent (32 MPG)
Hyundai Elantra (32 MPG)
Mazda 2 (30-32 MPG)
Nissan Versa (35 MPG)
Toyota Yaris (32 MPG)
Toyota Corolla (29 MPG auto, 30 MPG manual)
Weekly Column: U.S. 1 Version 2.0: Reducing Congestion
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of November 12, 2013.
U.S. 1 Version 2.0: Reducing Congestion
This is the third article in my weekly series examining the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis, our transit choices and why extending the Metro subway Yellow Line is the best alternative. Last week, I focused on how our transit choice for the highway will improve outcomes in our schools. This week I focus on traffic.
U.S. 1 has a long history. The road’s current alignment through the 44th District is a consolidation of three or four local roads realigned between 1915 and 1935 into U.S. 1 and widened in the early 1970s. Before the Shirley Highway (now I-395) in 1941, it was the major north-south road in the eastern U.S.. Afterwards, it just became a major north-south road. Today, it remains the primary way in, out and through the 44th District.
U.S. 1’s current configuration presents many problems. First, there are only two ways for the 120,000 people between Fort Belvoir, Huntley Meadows and Alexandria, plus commuters to cross Little Hunting Creek – U.S. 1 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWP) – and no route west between Lockheed Boulevard and the Fairfax County Parkway (or Woodlawn after Mulligan Road opens in about six months ). This creates numerous choke points, like those at Kings Crossing and Buckman Road and at Woodlawn Plantation when U.S. 1 is widened through Fort Belvoir in about four years.
Second, our entire transportation network is very car-centric. Cyclists put their lives in their hands and have no good way to get around our area or anywhere south or west. The rate of pedestrian deaths in the 44th District is double the state average.
Third, growing congestion has pushed commuter cut-through traffic onto secondary roads such as Fort Hunt Road, Old Mount Vernon Road, Sherwood Hall Lane and the GWP.
The U.S. 1 corridor should become more walkable, “bikeable,” transit-friendly and interconnected so that people can move efficiently. Congestion will only worsen when we add 40,000 new people over the next 30 years, 17,000 new jobs and whatever the U.S. Army throws at us with the next round of base realignments (BRAC) scheduled for 2015.
What are the options? New dedicated bus lanes on U.S. 1 would provide some relief, but they will not generate the kind of redevelopment our area really needs. However, new bus lanes may be a bridge to the long-term solution.
I have serious reservations about light rail on a highway with a 45--mile-per-hour speed limit and dozens of stop lights. It is unlikely that light rail would reduce commuter travel times versus car or bus travel. Reducing commuting times makes a transit mode attractive to people. Plus, there are significant engineering questions about whether light rail cars can climb over Beacon Hill given the grade. A Yellow Line Metro extension would not only move the people who are already here, but also the people coming in the future. A Metro extension can also stimulate attractive redevelopment that will create more interconnected local roads, such as more crossings of Little Hunting Creek or other connections between neighborhoods, along U.S. 1 and to help alleviate congestion.
A Yellow Line extension would give tourists better options for visiting Mount Vernon Estate and Woodlawn Plantation. It would give commuters, contractors and others more options to get to Fort Belvoir, the new U.S. Army Museum and points north such as Washington, D.C., and the Dulles Metro Corridor.
While extending Metro is the most expensive option, I am hopeful that once this study is complete, it will prove to be the most obvious solution.
A critical piece of the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis is public input. Please participate in the community discussion.
Next week I will focus on how this study will help improve our environment. If you have any feedback, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.
Fairfax County Still Leads in Childcare Waiting Lists
As I wrote last week in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, preschool and affordable childcare are approaching crisis in the 44th District as our schools continue to struggle. How did we get here?
The Clinton Administration saw significant reforms to what was then called "Welfare" programs. Welfare was renamed "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" or TANF. One of the major reforms was that parents were expected to work if they wanted to continue to receive TANF benefits.
Given that many parents lacked job skills to earn living wages, the cost of childcare was frequently more than the net income a parent could earn working. The account for this, the government began paying for childcare subsidies so that parents could work and develop job skills. The New York Times wrote an excellent summary of the problem here:
Subsidized childcare programs are funded by both the state and local governments. Virginia has not increased the amount paid for childcare subsidies in years. Additionally, Virginia has not fully funded its subsidized childcare obligations in years. The current backlog would cost over $71 million per year to fund.
Some localities "over match" their programs to ensure they do not have waiting lists. Some do not - including Fairfax County. This results in waiting lists.
The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area has some of the highest child care costs in the United States:
High quality childcare programs also serve as pre-kindergarten education programs. Before our third child was born, our daughters went to the Bryant Early Learning Center (BEL Center) which is run by United Community Ministries (UCM). The BEL Center has a mix of paying parents and parents whose care was subsidized. Children there received pre-K education as part of the care provided. I saw first-hand the benefit these programs have for children.
There's no question the Commonwealth is not living up to its end of the bargain on childcare services. However, even though Fairfax County only has 17% of the state's population, regularly runs $50 million annual budget surpluses, and has a large number of "Super Zip Codes" with incomes that are triple the national average
, it has 27% of the children waiting to receive childcare services.
Arlington County has 2.7% of the state's population and 0.94% of the children on the waiting list. Loudoun County has 4.2% of Virginia's population and 2.99% of the children on the list. The bulk of Fairfax County's waiting list are children in the 44th District.
Here is the entire list below that was provided to me by the state about two months ago. Draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, I will continue to fight to increase Virginia's appropriations for childcare services.
|VA Subsidized Childcare Waiting List by Locality |
|Locality ||# of Families ||# of Children ||% of Entire List |
|Fairfax County (059) ||2,504 ||3903 ||27.41% |
|Prince William County (153) ||862 ||1549 ||10.88% |
|Chesapeake City (550) ||581 ||986 ||6.92% |
|Newport News City (700) ||468 ||777 ||5.46% |
|Richmond City (760) ||353 ||615 ||4.32% |
|Norfolk City (710) ||354 ||603 ||4.23% |
|Henrico County (087) ||356 ||584 ||4.10% |
|Stafford County (179) ||242 ||434 ||3.05% |
|Alexandria City (510) ||311 ||433 ||3.04% |
|Loudoun County (107) ||264 ||426 ||2.99% |
|Chesterfield County (041) ||227 ||410 ||2.88% |
|Hampton City (650) ||220 ||367 ||2.58% |
|Roanoke City (770) ||159 ||249 ||1.75% |
|Portsmouth City (740) ||136 ||229 ||1.61% |
|Caroline County (033) ||74 ||135 ||0.95% |
|Arlington County (013) ||92 ||134 ||0.94% |
|Fredericksburg City (630) ||80 ||131 ||0.92% |
|Roanoke County (161) ||74 ||129 ||0.91% |
|James City County (095) ||67 ||122 ||0.86% |
|Hopewell City (670) ||59 ||118 ||0.83% |
|Manassas City (683) ||62 ||118 ||0.83% |
|Frederick County (069) ||61 ||105 ||0.74% |
|Culpeper County (047) ||61 ||102 ||0.72% |
|Suffolk City (800) ||65 ||98 ||0.69% |
|Spotsylvania County (177) ||58 ||90 ||0.63% |
|Charlottesville City (540) ||57 ||89 ||0.63% |
|Warren County (187) ||50 ||89 ||0.63% |
|Danville City (590) ||47 ||78 ||0.55% |
|Harrisonburg City (660) ||48 ||74 ||0.52% |
|Albemarle County (003) ||40 ||62 ||0.44% |
|Essex County (057) ||31 ||52 ||0.37% |
|Hanover County (085) ||31 ||50 ||0.35% |
|Washington County (191) ||33 ||48 ||0.34% |
|Montgomery County (121) ||34 ||47 ||0.33% |
|Salem City (775) ||30 ||46 ||0.32% |
|Isle of Wight County (093) ||23 ||43 ||0.30% |
|Augusta County (015) ||27 ||40 ||0.28% |
|Bedford County (019) ||20 ||37 ||0.26% |
|Manassas Park City (685) ||21 ||37 ||0.26% |
|Franklin County (067) ||18 ||36 ||0.25% |
|Prince Edward County (147) ||20 ||33 ||0.23% |
|Petersburg City (730) ||21 ||31 ||0.22% |
|Gloucester County (073) ||20 ||28 ||0.20% |
|Amherst County (009) ||18 ||27 ||0.19% |
|Staunton City (790) ||16 ||27 ||0.19% |
|Waynesboro City (820) ||15 ||27 ||0.19% |
|Greene County (079) ||15 ||25 ||0.18% |
|Powhatan County (145) ||13 ||23 ||0.16% |
|King and Queen County (097) ||15 ||22 ||0.15% |
|King George County (099) ||14 ||21 ||0.15% |
|Fairfax City (600) ||15 ||20 ||0.14% |
|Giles County (071) ||12 ||20 ||0.14% |
|Rockingham County (165) ||12 ||20 ||0.14% |
|New Kent County (127) ||12 ||19 ||0.13% |
|Northampton County (131) ||13 ||19 ||0.13% |
|Shenandoah County (171) ||11 ||17 ||0.12% |
|Williamsburg City (830) ||10 ||17 ||0.12% |
|Colonial Heights City (570) ||8 ||16 ||0.11% |
|Amelia County (007) ||8 ||13 ||0.09% |
|Fauquier County (061) ||9 ||13 ||0.09% |
|Clarke County (043) ||8 ||10 ||0.07% |
|Louisa County (109) ||5 ||9 ||0.06% |
|Virginia Beach City (810) ||5 ||9 ||0.06% |
|Campbell County (031) ||6 ||8 ||0.06% |
|Botetourt County (023) ||7 ||7 ||0.05% |
|Fluvanna County (065) ||4 ||7 ||0.05% |
|Rappahannock County (157) ||4 ||7 ||0.05% |
|Richmond County (159) ||3 ||6 ||0.04% |
|Charles City County (036) ||3 ||5 ||0.04% |
|Franklin City (620) ||3 ||5 ||0.04% |
|Bedford City (515) ||3 ||4 ||0.03% |
|Cumberland County (049) ||1 ||3 ||0.02% |
|Falls Church City (610) ||2 ||3 ||0.02% |
|Goochland County (075) ||3 ||3 ||0.02% |
|Middlesex County (119) ||2 ||2 ||0.01% |
|Radford City (750) ||1 ||2 ||0.01% |
|Lynchburg City (680) ||1 ||1 ||0.01% |
|York County (199) ||1 ||1 ||0.01% |
|State Totals ||8,662 ||14,239 ||100.00% |
Why I Hate Electronic Voting Machines
Today’s battle over the “missing” Fairfax County 8th Congressional District absentee votes has given me flashbacks.
In 2009, I was chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Gerry Connolly was elected to Congress in 2008. In January, 2009, Sharon Bulova was elected Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in a special election.
Upon her resignation, a special election was held for Braddock District Supervisor. John Cook and Illryong Moon faced off on who would represent Braddock District's 100,000 citizens. As we waited for the votes to come in, everyone was waiting for the votes to come in for the largest (and Democratic leaning) precinct in the district – Fairview – while margin between the candidates stood under at 70 votes. If Fairview Precinct gave Mr. Moon the same margin it gave President Obama in 2008, it would change the result of the election.
While I was waiting at the victory party, I received a phone call from one of my former Mt. Vernon District Precinct Captains, Michael Gropman, who had moved to Fairview and was inside the polling place.
He told me there were two touch screen voting machines (technically called "Direct Recording Electronic Machines" or "DRE’s") in the precinct and that the “master” machine that communicates wirelessly with all machines in the precinct and tabulates the entire precinct's vote was spitting out tapes that were causing the precinct vote totals to be nearly double the total number of voters that had passed through the precinct that day.
The machines were examined. After it was determined they could not produce accurate results, they were turned off, sealed and taken to the Fairfax County Government Center. Mike met me at the victory party. We went into a booth and I took a recorded statement from him about what he had observed. I was concerned litigation was coming.
We arrived the following day for the Canvass.
First, we engaged in a debate about whether to turn the machine on.
No one knew whether turning the machine on would destroy the forensic value of the data on the machine.
After communicating with a company that services the machines, The Board learned that turning on the machines would cause the machines to upload data files and rewrite them to add new information from being turned on.
The Electoral Board then decided that it was necessary to turn the machines on to do anything, time was of the essence and the Board would save the thumb drive back ups as the forensic copies.
The County Registrar's employees then turned the machines on and asked them to print their result tapes. One of the failsafes, the "predictive counter," was off and the “master” machine printed out a tape that again suggested hundreds of "extra" people had voted on top of the 689 people who had been manually checked in by officials at the front table.
The Board attempted to print the results separately from each machine. The tape from the “non-master” machine it suggested about half of the 689 votes had been cast on that one machine. That seemed right.
Then, we asked the “master” machine to print a separate tape and it produced a tape suggested 600+/- votes had been cast on it alone. Adding the two tapes together produced a result that was even different than the “master” tape.
No mathematical analysis could produce any logic behind the machine’s “master” results – e.g. it was not doubling votes, adding tapes together, etc. The "master" machine's individual tape and "master tape" results were completely illogical.
Next, the Electoral Board turned to the Code of Virginia to determine what to do next. The Code said the Board should follow the machine’s manual. After I cross examined the Registrar's Office employees, it was conceded that the manual did not say what to do if the machine was doing bad math (clearly because the machine should not have been programmed to incorrectly add results).
The Code then said to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. We were advised that the manufacturer had gone bankrupt and was no longer in business. Calling the manufacturer was a dead end.
The County had a contract with a company to service these machines, but they were different from the manufacturer. They did not program the original source code. The Board decided that they were not referenced in the Code.
The Board then elected to print what are called the “ballot images” – a listing of each voter’s individual vote. Apparently, this had never been done before in Virginia because a machine had never malfunctioned like this.
The ballot "images" were printed out. Each tape was probably 100 yards long.
The Fairfax County Registrar read off all 600+ votes one at a time while each Electoral Board member, campaign representatives, and party volunteers each made marks on paper – “Moon…Cook….Moon….Cook, etc.” After an hour of counting, everyone added up their chalk marks and the results matched the manual count from the front table exactly to the vote.
The Electoral Board decided that must have been the vote for that precinct.
Adding that up to the totals, Mr. Moon had lost the election by 89 votes out of 13,133 that were cast.
Mr. Moon thought about requesting a recount. Given that the Board had to invent procedures to deal with the situation, there might have been cause to raise issues, but given that that manual count matched the number of voters who were manually counted, he decided that a court would probably find that while the results suspicious, they were likely accurate and that he should not put taxpayers through that expense.
As of today, no one has ever explained why the voting machine produced that result. The algorythms in these machines are very simple totalization software. The odds of a software bug are very low. I asked the State Board of Elections to do a forensic analysis of the disputed machines. No one followed up.
Every since that day, I have insisted on a paper ballot if one is available. At least we can look at the paper and, as Sarah Conner warned us in The Terminator, we don't have to trust the machines.
Thank You 44th District!
On Tuesday, November 5, 18,387 of the 44th District's 80,000 residents participated in the 2013 Election. Seventy-one percent of them chose to give me the honor of continuing to represent our community in Richmond.
Since I was first elected in 2009, the long-term improvement of the U.S. 1 Corridor has been my number one priority and it will continue to be. The extension of the Yellow Line is the long-term solution to redevelopment on U.S. 1.
The U.S. 1 Corridor is projected to add 40,000 new residents and 17,000 new jobs in the next 30 years. We need to lay the groundwork for moving those people now.
All of our children deserve a first class education. The Commonwealth has threatened to pull the accreditation of almost one-half of the schools in the 44th District. We must take steps to address that now and in the long term or our Mt. Vernon schools will be under threat of a state takeover.
We cannot continue to tolerate thousands of 44th District children on waiting lists for Head Start or subsidized childcare, and being asked to use online textbooks when they do not have computers or broadband at home. Whether a child attends preschool or can participate in school should not be a function of which side of U.S. 1 you live on or a family's income.
Virginia will now have a Governor who believes that renewable energy and energy efficiency is a path to economic development and new jobs. I look forward to working with Terry McAuliffe to bring Virginia's energy tax incentives and regulatory structures attractive to new jobs.
I also intend to fight to reform Virginia's political ethics laws and to maximize transparency. Streetlight is the best policeman and sunshine is the best disinfectant. The Freedom of Information Act must apply to Virginia's corporate regulator. Virginia's current laws are inadequate.
Finally, I also recognize that 5,210 44th District residents said they did not like the job I have been doing. I hope to continue to earn their confidence over the next two years. Not a single bill I carry can pass the House of Delegates without at least seventeen Republican legislators voting for it. Virginia has a strong bipartisan tradition history of getting things done.
Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you in Richmond. If you ever have any feedback, questions or concerns, please reach out and I hope to see you soon.
It is an honor to serve you in Richmond.
Weekly Column: Route 1 Version 2.0: Improving Our Schools
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of October 28, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0: Improving Our Schools
This is my second article on the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternative Analysis Study, our transit choices and why extending the Metro subway Yellow Line is the best choice.
There is no question the Yellow Line would bring big changes to our community. The question is whether these changes would be beneficial. Extending the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir would improve our area schools for two reasons. First, the redevelopment required to support a Metro extension would alter our housing mix. Second, redevelopment would also generate increased tax revenue and other funds for local infrastructure.
When the Virginia Board of Education announced accreditation results based on recent student testing two weeks ago, 13 Fairfax County schools received a warning. (One of the schools is designed to help learning disabled children.) Even though the 44th District has only 7% of the county’s population, half of the county’s warned schools were in the 44th District: Bucknell, Hybla Valley, Mount Vernon Woods and Woodlawn Elementary Schools and Mount Vernon High School. There are many reasons. Studies show that standardized test scores highly correlate with family income and if you align the school districts with census blocks, these schools have a high concentration of some of the lowest-income census tracks in Northern Virginia.
Children do not choose their family. We owe every child the best education we can provide. Educated children become productive citizens which benefits everyone. Struggling schools also affect everyone including property values, as realtors will attest.
Turning around these schools requires a multi-faceted approach, starting with quality pre-schools. There are over 2,000 children in the U.S. 1 Corridor on waiting lists for Head Start and subsidized childcare. There are at least 15 preschools between the Potomac River and Route 1, but zero between Route 1 and Huntley Meadows Park. In the short term, Fairfax County and Virginia must fully facilitate Head Start, the Virginia Preschool Initiative and subsidized childcare.
Over the long-term, we need to focus on changing U.S. 1 development patterns and to diversify our area housing mix. Arlington County and Fairfax County have redeveloped the Orange Line Corridor without destroying low-and-moderate-income neighborhoods and created walkable communities with restaurants, shopping and high quality retail yards away from existing single family homes. The housing mix has diversified while preserving existing populations.
We can do this in our own community while preserving historically-significant neighborhoods and affordable housing and maintaining our sense of place.
The cheapest transit solution would be more bus connections. While improving bus service might bring some short-term efficiency gains, more buses will not help Route 1 win the competition for the growing families that are now moving to Arlington, Ashburn, Leesburg, Reston or Herndon. However, extending the Yellow Line will bring the kind of focused redevelopment necessary to make Beacon Hill, Hybla Valley and Woodlawn attractive places for everyone to live, work, and shop that more buses cannot. Density will also affect property tax revenue. Fifty percent of our local government budget goes to our schools and smarter development can mean more real estate tax revenue generated per square foot of land and less demand for higher taxes on your home.
Redevelopment also creates what is called “proffer revenue” – funds that the Board of Supervisors can require developers to pay to help fund new infrastructure needed supporting new development. Other parts of the County have more synthetic turf fields because they were developed after the proffer laws were enacted. Because proffer revenue typically stays in the Supervisor district it is generated, redeveloping U.S. 1 will bring new funds for our parks and schools.
In sum, our schools need more than short-term fixes. The long-term game changer for our schools and U.S. 1 is extending the Yellow Line.
As we continue to move through the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis, it is very important that our community provide feedback not just for the transit options, but also the amount of density that our community will accept. If the community opposes the kind of density that has brought Town Centers to Arlington, Reston, or Fairfax Corner, then our development will only support more buses and continued struggles with our schools.
Next week I will discuss how the study will affect traffic and commuting. It is an honor to serve as your delegate.
Weekly Column: Route 1 Version 2.0 - An Introduction
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of October 21, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0 - An Introduction
In my first campaign in 2009 and since, the message I hear from Mount Vernon-area voters is clear -- the number one issue in our community is traffic and attracting high-quality economic development to U.S. 1. People would like to have nearby a good restaurant, an interesting bookstore and quality department stores, for example.
While our local government officials have worked hard to generate redevelopment in our area, their ability to attract high-quality development is limited by the lack of infrastructure necessary to move high numbers of people in, out and through the U.S. 1 corridor. Since my first election, turning this around has been high on my list of priorities.
Last week, the Commonwealth of Virginia held its first public meeting to discuss what’s called the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis Study. This study will lay the groundwork for the next 40 years of life in our area. The design of U.S. 1 and the selected mode of transit will determine the quality of schools, the value of homes, the volume of traffic, the quality of our environment, and our quality of life. Everyone who cares about the future of our community should pay attention and participate in this analysis.
The study is funded by a $2 million budget amendment secured by Senator Toddy Puller and me in the 2013 General Assembly session. It is being managed by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit.
The question I hear the most is, why do we need to study U.S. 1 again? The answer: it is legally required.
U.S. 1 is part of the National Highway System and making any improvements to U.S.1 requires Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approval. The FHWA will not approve any improvements unless the changes have been adequately analyzed and determined to meet various usage, cost and effectiveness metrics.
The study area extends from the Occoquan River on the county’s southern border to the Alexandria city line. Prince William County and the city of Alexandria are participating as well.
Why do we need this study? First, a tsunami of people and jobs are coming to our community. Second, major economic redevelopment is on hold because no one knows what kind of transit or road configuration will exist on U.S. 1 30 years from now.
Fort Belvoir is at the heart of the study. Today, Fort Belvoir employs more people than the Pentagon. Over 70,000 cars go through its gates daily. Fort Belvoir's only transit is two bus lines which means that virtually everyone commutes by car. The $1 billion Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, PX and other facilities generate thousands of daily trips. The U.S. Army Museum is scheduled to open near U.S. 1 and the Fairfax County Parkway intersection and bring half a million visitors a year. The next round of base realignments, known as BRAC, and probably more development are just several years away.
On top of that, the U.S. 1 corridor between Woodlawn and Alexandria is projected to add 20,000 jobs and over 44,000 people within one-half a mile of U.S. 1 over the next 30 years. That area currently has about 110,000 residents.
The study will evaluate a range of possible improvements or combination of improvements. These include road widening, extending the Metro subway Yellow Line, light rail, monorail, bus rapid transit, bicycle and pedestrian enhancements and doing nothing.
I believe that a Yellow Line Metro extension to Lorton is the best alternative, but the study professionals will evaluate that against other options.
Over the coming weeks, I am will write a series of articles describing how the choices we make today will affect our schools, traffic, the environment and economic development. I will also explain why I believe extending the Yellow Line to Lorton is the best approach for our community.
I look forward to your feedback and participation in this process. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.
Reston Impact Inteview: Virginia Ethics Reform
Two weeks ago I was interviewed on Reston Impact by John Lovaas. The main topic was ethics reform. You can see my ethics reform plan here:
League of Women Voters 2013 Candidate Forum
Here is a video of my appearance at the League of Women Voters Lee District Candidate Forum on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at the Franconia Government Center. Thank you to the League of Women Voters for putting these forums together!