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What’s New

Youngkin admin seeks to withdraw Virginia from RGGI without new legislation

From:13NewsNow

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration is aiming to withdraw the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by the end of 2023 without legislative action from state lawmakers.

Travis Voyles, the acting Virginia secretary of natural and historic resources, presented the withdrawal plans to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board during its Wednesday meeting.

If it goes through, the state would no longer be part of the auction-based carbon emissions reduction program alongside 10 other East Coast states.

Voyles’ presentation lines up with Youngkin’s ninth executive order, which ordered administration officials to propose a regulation that would repeal the state’s participation in RGGI.

“RGGI is a bad deal for Virginia,” Voyles told board members. “Whether you agree with the framework and principles of the cap and trade system, the way RGGI has been implemented in Virginia does not work as an effective means for greenhouse gas reductions.”

Voyles opened his presentation by arguing that RGGI passes costs onto Virginia consumers “as a tax” without incentivizing any change in behavior from electricity providers because of the way it was set up.

He also claimed that Virginia’s participation allows northeastern states to dictate the state’s energy policies, as opposed to Virginians and elected officials.

Voyles concluded his opening argument by saying Virginians don’t need “a regressive energy tax through RGGI” to fund programs that address climate resiliency and energy efficiency.

After explaining where the administration stands on RGGI, Voyles said officials will soon introduce a notice of intended regulatory action repealing the state’s participation.

Under Virginia law, those notices should describe the planned regulation and allow at least 30 days for the public to comment.

Voyles said the regulation would allow the state to leave RGGI by the end of 2023, coinciding with the end of the program’s three-year compliance period and contract with the organization that manages the program. He added that waiting to withdraw would provide regulatory certainty.

Despite these steps, it’s legally ambiguous if Virginia can leave the program without new legislation because of provisions in the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act.

The 2020 law directed the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to incorporate regulations that created the carbon dioxide cap and trade program and authorized the department director to create and manage a program “consistent with the RGGI program.”

Following Voyles’ presentation, the Southern Environmental Law Center said the action taken by the Youngkin administration wasn’t legal, and the program is beneficial for Virginians.

“RGGI has already proven it reduces pollution at the same time that it brings in desperately needed resources,” SELC Senior Attorney Nate Benforado said in a statement. “But instead of supporting this popular program to reduce carbon pollution, the Youngkin administration has consistently sought to take unlawful action to end Virginia’s participation in RGGI — despite the fact that neither the governor nor regulators have the authority to do so.”

Benforado attended the presentation and spoke to the board following Voyles’ presentation, saying it doesn’t matter what he, board members or Youngkin think about RGGI.

“The General Assembly decided this policy for us in 2020,” Benforado told board members. “They wrote a law that mandates we participate in RGGI.”

RGGI is comprised of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. These states have a regional cap that limits carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, a limit that will get stricter over time.

Within the program, regulated power plants have to acquire carbon dioxide emission allowances for every short ton they emit, which are distributed at quarterly actions.

The idea behind a cap-and-trade program, such as RGGI, is to encourage power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and invest in clean energy production.

Voyles’ presentation to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board came the same day that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the 2021 State of the Climate report, which found greenhouse gas concentrations, global sea levels and ocean heat levels all hit record highs last year.

CRI Announces New Video Released: Visual of Wind Turbines off the Coast of Delaware Beaches

From: The Caesar Rodney Institute NEWARK, DE – The Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI), with its Energy Expert David T. Stevenson, has spearheaded the fight against offshore wind turbines since 2017 to protect Delaware Beaches. Today, CRI announces the release of a shocking video that depicts and uncovers the truth behind how the wind turbines will look off Delaware beaches after construction, who will benefit (not Delawareans), and the marine life it will forever harm.

 “There are better clean energy solutions than placing a highly visible industrial park off our Delaware beaches. Offshore wind costs four times more than other options, causes great environmental damage, and threatens our beach economy.” -David T. Stevenson, Director Center for Energy & Environmental Policy

 The short & shocking video of what the wind turbines will look like (once constructed) can be viewed by CLICKING HERE.

 “The video details why visible wind turbines pose many serious and avoidable risks. Ocean turbines are not needed to reach renewable energy goals, which are better and safer met by land-based turbines.” -John Toedtman, Executive Director

 In 2018 Save Our Beach View (www.SaveOurBeachView.com) was formed to educate Delaware beach property residents about the state of Maryland’s plans to construct offshore wind turbines off the coast of Delaware beaches, but the energy produced by these wind turbines is for Maryland residents and not Delaware. Save our Beach View is a project of the Caesar Rodney Institute and is a member of the American Coalition for Ocean Protection (ACOP).

Concerns raised as Ørsted, U.S. Wind projects progress off coast of Delmarva

From: WMDT 

DELMARVA – Just days ago, the world’s largest offshore wind farm became fully operational off the coast of Yorkshire, England. Meanwhile, Ørsted and U.S. Wind are preparing to build offshore wind farms here at home, near Ocean City, Maryland and Delaware’s coastal beaches.

Ørsted plans to build their Skipjack Wind project, which includes approximately 70 wind turbines. At its closest point, Skipjack Wind will be 15.5 miles from shore, says Ørsted. U.S. Wind is working on two offshore wind projects: its MarWind and Momentum Wind projects.

However, some are raising concerns about various issues relating to the projects: how they will impact local tourism, wildlife, and job creation. The Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI), a non-profit affiliate of the State Policy Network of conservative and libertarian think tanks, say the projects will only negatively impact Delmarva.

Tourists and the Turbines

David Stevenson, Director of CRI’s Center for Energy and Environment, cites a study out of North Carolina State University when it comes to potential impacts on tourism. The study asked respondents how likely they would be to visit beach towns if there were wind turbines visibly towering over the water.

“38% of those renters would not come back to a beach with visible turbines during the daylight. Even worse, when they saw visualizations of what it looks like at night with the red flashing lights, 54% wouldn’t come back,” said Stevenson. “If we see that kind of economic damage to our beach communities, it means jobs, it means the payroll that you get – you may get a smaller paycheck. It means property values may fall.”

U.S. Wind and Ørsted cite a different study, refuting that wind turbines drive away tourists and their dollars. The study, out of the University of Rhode Island, looked at vacation rental numbers on Block Island, Rhode Island after a wind farm was constructed just three miles from the coast. Despite the visible wind turbines, tourism numbers spiked.

“There is a curiosity effect to offshore wind development. People want to see these majestic machines out on the horizon that are creating massive amounts of clean energy,” said Nancy Sopko, Senior Director of External Affairs for U.S. Wind. “People wanted to rent houses and other vacation rentals, condos, etc. to see these turbines.”

Worries Over Wildlife

Meanwhile, Stevenson says tourists and locals don’t want wind turbines built near their homes, and neither does the local wildlife.

“Each one of these turbines, if you look at the blades, sweep out an area of eight to ten football fields,” said Stevenson. “The wingtips of the blades are moving at 180 miles per hour and higher. They are definitely going to kill migratory birds, such as the Red Knot, which is an endangered species.”

Stevenson also worries about any potential impact on horseshoe crabs, which feed the Red Knots when they stop during their migration on Delaware’s beaches. He says not enough information is available yet to tell if the animals will be safe from harm.

“The federal agencies that have approved this say they don’t have the data. In our view, get the data first before these things. Don’t build them and then figure out what the damage is,” said Stevenson.

U.S. Wind also refutes these claims. Sopko says U.S. Wind has done their due diligence in planning for any environmental impact.

“We are seeking to avoid any impact. What we cannot avoid, we are significantly minimizing, and also mitigating any impact to the environment,” said Sopko. “U.S. Wind, as with all offshore wind developers, have to go through a multiyear process with several federal agencies and state agencies that are really digging into the contents of our permitting applications and our plans.”

Ørsted adds that National Audubon Society studies indicate that the areas where the wind farms will be constructed are far enough offshore that they will not affect the birds. Plus, Ørsted says impact on horseshoe crabs and other marine animals will be minimal. The company says that’s because if animals like a whale, for example, are detected during construction, work will stop. And, construction will take place outside of horseshoe crab breeding season. Ørsted says horseshoe crabs might even use the base of the wind turbines as a habitat.

Job Creation, Local Investments

U.S. Wind has been touting how many local, permanent jobs will be created through their projects. Sopko says the company is working with the Sparrow Point steel mill in Baltimore, Maryland. She says workers there will be responsible for building the monopile foundations that secure the wind turbines into the earth.

Sopko says the MarWin project is estimated to create 1,500 jobs, the Momentum Wind project will employ 3,500 people, and the Sparrow Point collaboration will create 500 jobs. Operations and maintenance on the coast will bring 100 jobs, says Sopko.

“You put all that together, and that’s thousands and thousands of jobs for our first two projects,” said Sopko. “What we have said has been backed up by the independent consultants that have looked at these job numbers, that applications that we have put forward to the states.”

Ørsted is also pledging to boost job creation on Delmarva. The company has committed to creating 780 permanent local jobs, plus thousands of local construction jobs during its Skipjack Wind project. The company also claims it will invest a minimum of $735 million in capital spending over 30 years in the region as it builds Skipjack Wind.

CRI, however, isn’t confident that all of those jobs will go to locals.

“There’s definitely going to be some jobs created during the 12 to 18 months when they construct these things. But, a lot of those jobs will go to folks in Europe,” said Stevenson. “The turbines are built in Europe, the crews that bring them over here are European vessels with European installation crews. So, even though there’s some jobs created, they may not be in the U.S.”

Looking Ahead

Despite the opposition, Ørsted and U.S. Wind are on track to continue with their respective projects. Sopko says the work is crucial, given the worsening climate crisis.

“Offshore wind in general can bring massive amounts of clean energy to the grid at a time when it is most needed. We see the world burning and drowning all at the same time,” said Sopko. “We are very excited about the opportunities that exist for Marylanders, for Delaware, and we want everyone to be a part of it that wants to be a part of it.”

Stevenson hopes that the companies will consider moving their projects further offshore, or out of the region altogether.

“If you’re worried about climate change, this isn’t going to solve it. It’s just replacing other things that work better, have less environmental damage, and have less threats to our economy,” said Stevenson. “People have got to wake up to what’s going on here, and we do have a way to stop these or get changes made.”

CON Laws Keep Tennesseans from Being Able to Access Healthcare Services. That Needs to Change.

From: Beacon Center of Tennessee 

Since its establishment, TriStar Horizon Medical Center in Dickson, Tennessee has acquired a less-than-favorable reputation in the minds of Dickson County residents. According to a 2018 study reported by the Tennessean, 60 percent of potential patients in Dickson County are leaving the area for medical care provided in Davidson County. For any serious health incident or concern, the hospital is often bypassed in favor of more respected healthcare facilities in Nashville (looking at you, Vanderbilt). The lack of available services and equipment at hospitals such as the TriStar Horizon Medical Center has become a real problem for those seeking the necessary medical attention.

Luckily, TriStar Horizon Medical Center has begun to implement over 30 million dollars worth of expansion and renovation projects over the last few years. Most importantly, they began construction of a brand-new 17 million dollar intensive care unit, which should be finished by the end of this year. With the addition of an ICU and a newly renovated cardiac catheterization unit, along with the expansion of their oncology office and imaging services, access to top-of-the-line healthcare services will no longer cost residents of Dickson a trip out of the county. These improvements come only after thousands of dollars in filing fees and countless hours spent submitting Certificate of Need applications to the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency.

Unfortunately, this ‘happy ending’ is often not the case for many Tennessee citizens. This is where certificates of need come into play. Certificate of Need (CON) laws require healthcare providers to seek permission and prove there is a shortage of some medical services in the area in order to change, add, or reduce the services they provide. Intended to regulate healthcare costs and competition, the unintended consequences of CONs often make it difficult for Tennesseans to access adequate healthcare services. Currently, 22 counties in the state of Tennessee do not have hospitals, and 17 counties do not have emergency departments. Research shows that states that have CON requirements have fewer rural hospitals and rural ambulatory surgical centers. Eliminating these onerous regulations would make it easier for more providers like TriStar to further invest in underserved communities.

Tennessee has made progress in repealing and reforming its CON requirements. For example, legislation enacted in 2021 now exempts healthcare services and facilities from CON requirements in economically distressed counties without an existing hospital and allows previously licensed hospitals to open up opioid addiction treatment centers without obtaining an additional CON. However, there is still much work to be done. CON laws in Tennessee are still much more stringent compared to other states. Tennessee still requires a CON for nearly 20 different services by the state, while 15 states don’t require a CON at all and many other states’ CON regulations can at least be counted on one hand.

Tennessee must continue to take action to ensure that every citizen can access and receive the medical care that they deserve by continuing to reform and repeal CON laws. While those in Dickson County are fortunate enough to benefit from an approved Certificate of Need application, there are still many Tennesseeans that deserve increased access to healthcare and further investments in their health. This is unlikely without additional CON reform that permits more straightforward implementation of necessary healthcare services.

ChristianaCare walks away from Crozer deal

From: Delaware Business Times   WILMINGTON — ChristianaCare has ended its bid to buy Crozer Health this morning, concluding its efforts to aggressively expand in southern Pennsylvania and settling for a smaller share of the market for now.

Delaware’s largest health care system signed a letter of intent with Crozer’s parent company, Prospect Medical Holdings Inc., in February. The goal was to finalize the sale in the fourth quarter of 2022, pending a due diligence period and negotiations.

In a joint statement, both ChristianaCare and Prospect Medical Holdings said Thursday that “the economic landscape has significantly changed, impacting the ability of the sale to move forward.”

“We worked hard to reach an agreement for the purchase of Crozer Health, and we are disappointed in this outcome,” ChristianaCare Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel Jennifer Schwartz said in a statement. “ChristianaCare very much wants to be a strong partner in Delaware County and in other communities throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. We will continue to explore opportunities to serve the needs of our neighbors.”

ChristianaCare, a not-for-profit that breaks its organization into several tax-exempt organizations, produced revenue of more than $2.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2020 and held more than $2.8 billion in net assets. The FY 2020 tax returns for the nonprofit are the last publicly available documents at this time.

Crozer Health, established in 1990 by the merger of Crozer-Chester Medical Center and Delaware County Memorial Hospital, was acquired by Prospect in 2016 after no local nonprofit organizations were willing to take over the beleaguered system. Prospect, a for-profit company, has laid off employees and closed hospital units in the past year.

The deal, if completed, would have transferred four hospitals as well as Crozer Health Medical Group’s primary care and specialist practices, as well as other assets. ChristianaCare would have also gained roughly 3,800 employees.

However, in the weeks after the prospective deal was announced, Crozer Health continued to lay off more staff. Departures eventually included Crozer CEO Kevin Spiegel, who held the job for five months. In July, he was replaced with Anthony Esposito, who served as the chief financial officer at Drexel University College of Medicine.

Crozer also weighed closing several wards and services, including substance abuse clinics and services at three hospitals and a crisis center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, according to WHYY.

In April, Crozer was looking to quietly receive additional payment from seven Pennsylvania townships to continue offering paramedic services. Then-Crozer CEO Kevin Spiegel wrote a letter to municipal leaders that the paramedic service operated at a $336,000 annual loss, and would be ending service by the end of the month if a new funding agreement could not be reached.

Amid closing or reevaluating many of its assets, another factor complicating the deal with ChristianaCare was that Crozer no longer owns its facilities. In 2019, Prospect sold the property it owned in Pennsylvania, California and Connecticut to Medical Properties Trust for $1.55 billion, with Crozer leasing back its facilities and adding to operational costs.

Crozer pays between $30 million and $35 million in annual rent to Medical Properties Trust, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Earlier this month, Prospect Medical Holdings  signed its first contract with a union of more than 80 technical specialists at Delaware County Memorial Hospital (DCMH) and Taylor Hospital. The contract was signed after 14 months of negotiations.

ChristianaCare declined to comment in detail about ending the deal, citing the confidentiality of negotiations.

In the past year, ChristianaCare has proven to be an aggressive agent in health care expansion in the past year. After acquiring the former Union Hospital in nearby Elkton, Md., ChristianaCare was relatively quiet in terms of expanding beyond its footprint, until the potential deal with Crozer was announced.

Since then, ChristianaCare has moved forward with primary care offices in Rehoboth Beach and Milford, as well as a spinal surgery center in Wilmington. Around the same time talks were beginning for the Crozer deal, the health care system announced it would buy two primary care offices in Jennersville and West Grove. It also bought the Jennersville Hospital from Tower Health for $8 million this summer.

 

 

 

Some Medicare Advantage Organization Denials of Prior Authorization Requests Raise Concerns About Beneficiary Access to Medically Necessary Care

From: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Our case file reviews determined that MAOs sometimes delayed or denied Medicare Advantage beneficiaries’ access to services, even though the requests met Medicare coverage rules. MAOs also denied payments to providers for some services that met both Medicare coverage rules and MAO billing rules. Denying requests that meet Medicare coverage rules may prevent or delay beneficiaries from receiving medically necessary care and can burden providers.
Although some of the denials that we reviewed were ultimately reversed by the MAOs, avoidable delays and extra steps create friction in the program and may create an administrative burden for beneficiaries, providers, and MAOs. Examples of health care services involved in denials that met Medicare coverage rules included advanced imaging services (e.g., MRIs) and stays in post-acute facilities (e.g., inpatient rehabilitation facilities).
Prior authorization requests. We found that among the prior
authorization requests that MAOs denied, 13 percent met Medicare
coverage rules—in other words, these services likely would have been
approved for these beneficiaries under original Medicare (also known as
Medicare fee-for-service). We identified two common causes of these
denials. First, MAOs used clinical criteria that are not contained in
Medicare coverage rules (e.g., requiring an x-ray before approving more
advanced imaging), which led them to deny requests for services that our
physician reviewers determined were medically necessary. Although our
review determined that the requests in these cases did meet Medicare
coverage rules, CMS guidance is not sufficiently detailed to determine
whether MAOs may deny authorization based on internal MAO clinical
criteria that go beyond Medicare coverage rules. For the full report read more here.

Tennessee will now fund students, not systems

From: Beacon Center of Tennessee

Last week, the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned for the year. In one of their final actions, legislators passed Gov. Bill Lee’s Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act, or TISA. The proposal completely overhauls our state’s education funding formula for the first time in three decades. I was honored to be part of the effort, having chaired one of the subcommittees created to study the issue and offer recommendations, and having testified in support of the bill on behalf of our advocacy partner Beacon Impact.

TISA replaces what was possibly the nation’s most convoluted funding formula with a student-based approach. In short, going forward, Tennessee will begin to fund students, not systems. This alone is a huge improvement over the way we’ve funded education in Tennessee for generations. It means more money will make its way into the classroom where it belongs, something that’s sorely needed. Our research shows that just 53% of education funding makes it into the classroom now, far less than the national average.

There are other key benefits to a student-based funding formula. Here are three in particular:

It will bring increased transparency for taxpayers and parents. By simplifying the formula, parents can better understand how much we spend on their child, why their child generated that amount, and what that money is spent on. Beacon has in past years attempted to make education spending understandable, pulling all the available data together from dozens of Excel spreadsheets. It takes us—a think tank with full-time employees—months to do this. Now it will virtually be at everyone’s fingertips.

This increased transparency alone will lead to greater accountability, the second benefit of a student-based formula. By tying results to dollars spent, we can more easily draw a line when it comes to the effective use of those dollars. TISA also adds outcomes-based funding to the mix, rewarding districts that boost student achievement, incentivizing them to invest tax dollars in the right way to get results.

It will give school-level leadership greater flexibility. On average, individual principals across the state currently have control over just 8% of their budgets. The rest is already claimed by the time the money gets to the school level. Local leaders can use the flexibility provided by TISA to innovate and structure an education that reflects the needs and opportunities of their own students. We can then see what works and what doesn’t; just like federalism makes states the laboratories of democracy, a student-funding approach allows individual schools and districts to be laboratories of education.

We applaud Gov. Lee for championing funding students and not systems. Every single public school student in Tennessee will benefit from this much-needed reform.

BASIC LITERACY & NUMERACY SHOULD BE THE LEAST WE EXPECT FROM OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

From: Pelican Institute for Public Policy

Last week at a meeting where local school superintendents were reviewing proposed new state K-12 education policies about high schools, there was an interesting discussion about what high schools should be expected to do to help kids who are academically struggling. The question came up after data showed that only 37 percent of Louisiana high school students (based primarily on ninth- and 10th-grade LEAP tests) are performing at proficient levels or “on grade level.” A Louisiana Department of Education representative described the measurement as a key indicator of how well students have learned basic literacy and numeracy skills that are not only important in school but also in college and the workplace. Literacy involves not only reading and writing; it also involves speaking, listening, and comprehension in ways that support effective communication throughout one’s life. Numeracy is the ability to understand, reason with, and apply simple mathematical concepts in everyday situations, using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Given that sobering statistic, one might expect the meeting to include a discussion of how schools can better help kids learn in middle school, so they arrive in high school better prepared. Or maybe even a sharing of best practices on how tutoring and other academic interventions during students’ remaining years in high school can help them graduate with higher levels of readiness.

But no, there was very little, if any, of this. Instead, much of the discussion centered on the types of career training and credentials young people can pursue in high school to prepare for jobs. That sounds great, but most Louisiana students are not pursuing training or earning credentials in fields where there is high employer demand or where jobs pay a living wage with opportunities to advance in a career. Only six percent of students not on a university-prep pathway in high school are being prepared for jobs that will allow them to thrive and grow.

Why aren’t more students enrolled in those programs? There are a few reasons. One, these programs often involve a lot of coordination with local technical colleges and employers to get instructors and equipment and can be expensive, although schools have access to state and federal funding to pay many costs. Two, they require that schools engage, inform, and advise students and their families on the full array of career options, employment forecasts, wages and benefits, and growth potential. And three, as you might expect, many strong career training programs require students to be just as literate and numerate as those headed into careers requiring a four-year university degree.

Lots of research and feedback from employers reveal that most young hires just do not have the reading, writing, and verbal communication skills that are required to get and keep a good job. We talk a lot about literacy in the early elementary school grades, so kids have a solid foundation on which to learn, but what about the many young people who make it all the way to high school and are still struggling? Is putting them in a low-level career training program and transitioning them to a minimum wage job the only option? Surely not.

As Louisiana education leaders prioritize basic literacy and numeracy as key initiatives, they should remember that the needs exist throughout the continuum of kindergarteners through 12th graders. As we focus on the needs of our youngest learners, let’s not forget about our teens who will soon be entering the increasingly demanding workplace where essential literacy and numeracy skills are not a plus, but they are essential. If schools have not gotten them to a basic level of proficiency by the time they leave middle school, then the four years they spend in high school must be used to address those critical learning needs before enrolling them in any other type of program. Nothing matters more than leaving high school literate and numerate, and anything less is an inexcusable failure by our public education system to meet the most minimal expectations.

State education test scores dismal, described as ‘crisis’

From: Town Square Live

Delaware’s 2022 test scores were released Tuesday, and they aren’t pretty.

Just 30% of Delaware students in grades three to eight met grade level math requirements, while 42% earned a proficient score in English language arts.

These scores come from the state-administered Smarter Balanced Assessment, an end-of-the-year summative test that measures the abilities of students in grades three through eight in math and reading.

Because of the pandemic, there was no testing in 2020, and education officials have expressed concern over the value and accuracy of data in 2021.

Compared to 2019, the last year with a full and complete dataset, Delaware’s reading and math scores plummeted further and they already ranked in the bottom half of the country.

“This is a crisis, there’s no other way around it,” said Laurisa Schutt, executive director of First State Educate, a local education advocacy group.”

The Department of Education also published the state’s SAT scores Tuesday, and they also show a drop, but not as much as the Smart Balanced test.

Test scores release

In 2019, 48% of students scored proficiently in the evidence-based reading and writing portion, 28% tested proficient in math, and 42% reached that mark in the essay portion.

In 2022, the numbers are 47% for the evidence-based reading and writing portion, 24% for math, and 38% for the essay.

“We were using these test results as a baseline for recovery,” said Theresa Bennett, director of the Office of Assessment at the Department of Education.

The subpar scores come even though more than $600 million has been allocated to Delaware education for pandemic relief.

“We’ve never had as many resources in Delaware public education as right now,” said Education Secretary Mark Holodick at a Brandywine School District town hall meeting Monday. “We’re in an amazing position to do great things for kids because we have the resources that we haven’t had before.”

The scores look even worse when broken down by ethnicity, income and special needs, said Liz Parlett Butcher, director of communications for First State Educate.

The scores have four achievement levels: 1 means the student does not meet standards, 2 indicates a student nearly meets standards, 3 means the student meets standards and 4 means the student “exceeds standards.”

Test scores are broken up into these four achievement levels.

TEST SCORES ARE BROKEN UP INTO THESE FOUR ACHIEVEMENT LEVELS.

Vulnerable students struggling

In 2022 on the English Language Arts portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, 69% of students with disabilities fell into achievement level 1, as did 50% of low-income students and 56% of English Language Learners.

For the math part of the test, it’s even worse: 76% of students with disabilities scored in the first achievement level, as did 61% of low-income students and 62% of English Language Learners.

The three subgroups struggled even more on the SAT.

For the evidence-based reading and writing part, just 3% of English Language Learners scored proficient, with 8% of students with disabilities and 29% of low-income students doing the same.

The SAT math scores are even lower.

Just 1% of English Language Learners, 2% of students with disabilities, and 10% of low-income students earned a proficient score in the math portion of the SAT.

For the essay part, 3% of English Language Learners, 5% of students with disabilities, and 21% of low-income students scored proficient.

Discrepancies in test scores by ethnicity 

Broken down by ethnicity, for the English Language Arts test, 47% of Black students landed in the lowest achievement level, as did 41% of Hispanic students, compared to just 23% of white students in that category.

In math, 60% of Black students were in the lowest achievement level, and 51% of Hispanic students were too, compared to 29% of white students landing here.

The discrepancies in scores by different ethnic backgrounds are also reflected in the SAT scores.

Just 30% of Black students and 32% of Hispanic students scored a proficient score in the evidence-based reading and writing part of the SAT, compared to 61% of white students.

For math, 34% of white students scored proficient, but only 10% of Black students and 13% of Hispanic students did the same.

The scores for social studies and science tests are taken at three points in a student’s career in Delaware.

The social studies test is taken in grades 4, 7, and 11, and the science tests are taken in grades 5 and 8, and whenever the student takes biology in high school.

Similar to the reading, math, and SAT scores, Black students and Hispanic students scored lower across the board than white students, and students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and low-income students continued to struggle.

“Something that we’re just being really cautious about is looking at the demographics and seeing which students are not included in the current dataset,” said DOE’s Bennett. “The kids that were in third grade in 2019 didn’t have the same experiences that the kids in third grade had this past year, you know, and the year before, so we’re trying to take the context into consideration.”

Bennett said that at this point, the Department of Education is really just trying to digest the numbers before offering any analysis.

“Just give us some time because we really do want to dig into this,” she said. “We want to see who’s in the dataset and who’s not in the dataset so that we can do a little bit more analysis on that.”

The Department of Education’s power-point slide includes a set of goals that they now have at the state, district, charter, and classroom levels.

At the state level, the department plans to identify systemic inequities and determine the support and resources needed for student achievement.

At the district and charter level, the department will evaluate the implementation of curriculum and instruction while determining teachers’ professional needs to help them effectively teach.

And in the classroom, the department is set to identify strengths and areas of need while evaluating student achievement in grade-level content.

Schools will be getting some help. Delaware’s 151st General Assembly passed several bills to implement an evidence-based reading curriculum known as the science of reading to try to address the low levels of literacy and test achievement in the state. It also passed a slew of bills to help put mental health counselors and more into schools.

First State Educate sent out a statement encouraging readers to “Talk now to your school board members, to your school leaders, and to your community members.”

“Act together and ask about our $600,000,000 in federal relief funds, and what changes we hope to see from the investments being made in your district,” the statement said. “Ask how you can volunteer, mentor, read, share, understand and advocate.”

Click here to navigate through the open data portal of test scores.

The Accountability Myth: Remarks on the Report

In mid-2021, a national education organization, EdChoice, published a report about the lack of accountability for traditional public schools. EdChoice National Research Director Michael McShane, Ph.D., argues that traditional public schools are unaccountable in three major ways: financially, democratically, and academically. Alaskans will find McShane’s observations familiar and should take them into account when managing and reforming education in the Last Frontier:

  • “Traditional public schools are not financially accountable to taxpayers… When it comes to ‘financial accountability,’ public schools have been disastrously opaque, failing to disclose how dollars are actually spent and whether they are used to educate students. Opacity is a great tool for schools and districts: If no one can see where the money goes, it’s easy to convince the community that there just isn’t enough money.”
  • “Traditional public schools are not democratically accountable to citizens… ‘Democratic accountability’ relies on school board elections, which are problematic. School board elections are held off-cycle to drive down turnout. Bond elections use unclear language to muddy what they are actually asking of taxpayers. And the wishes of organized interests routinely supersede those of the body politic.”
  • “Traditional public schools are not academically accountable to students, parents, or anyone else for that matter… In practice, ‘academic accountability’ in K–12 education means schools are required to jump through the hoops set up by state and federal bureaucrats that are loosely related to demonstrating that students have actually learned anything. They are required to fill out paperwork and track down metrics and send them to the appropriate person at the appropriate office by the appropriate date, but ultimately not much happens after that.”

Traditional public schools are not financially accountable to taxpayers.

Answering the central financial question of education is quite complicated: How much money does your local public school spend educating the children in its charge? Firstly, Alaska’s funding formula is not a straightforward equation. Secondly, what counts as per student spending is not consistent. As McShane writes:

Are we just talking about “current” spending, the operating expenses that a school pays every year? Do we include capital costs and debt service? How do we think about long-term obligations like contributions to teacher pensions? How do we depreciate assets like school buses? Do we do it over five years like some states do or 20 years like others? Different sources include different combinations of expenses when identifying how much a school spends.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alaska spent an average of $18,394 per student as of 2019. That number includes salaries and benefits for teachers, school administration costs, transportation, child food services, capital costs, debt payments, and pupil support costs. Another resource, however, Georgetown University and McCourt School of Public Policy’s Edunomics Lab, compiles data reported by each district directly to the state of Alaska and shows the average cost per pupil in 2019 as $20,907. Both sources use expenditure data from the districts, but they have quite different numbers.

Moving on from these discrepancies, how much of the money spent is directly benefitting the students? Alaskans can find further breakdowns of per-student expenditures at the school level on the Department of Education and Early Development’s (DEED) Report Card to the Public or on Project Nickel. The problem, as EdChoice explains, is that:

…schools, districts, and states [including Alaska] are incentivized to classify their funding in ways that avoid public scrutiny. By shunting expenses into spending categories that don’t “count” towards per pupil expenditure calculations, they are able to artificially diminish the spending figures that are reported to the public. When that happens, school board members and, more importantly, voters do not get the full picture when evaluating how the school is performing. If you think a school is spending 75 or 80 percent of what it is actually spending, you might be more impressed with its performance than if you had the full picture.

Lastly, districts across the state have received millions of dollars in federal funding from the three coronavirus relief bills. As reports from APF have pointed out, thousands of dollars per student have been and are being used to purchase things and hire people, and currently districts are not showing whether any return has been realized on this investment. Some expenditures have not even been related to the pandemic. Worse, McShane worries that these monies may “become part of the baseline of school spending, showing massive ‘cuts’ when the money runs out.”

“We cannot hold schools accountable for their spending,” he writes, “if we don’t know what they spend. And we don’t know what they spend.”

Traditional public schools are not democratically accountable to citizens.

The EdChoice report explains this point clearly:

If trying to answer the question “how much does my local school spend” was too tough, how about a couple of easier ones. Can you name the President of the United States? How about your governor? The mayor of your town? OK, now for the hard one, can you name anyone on your local school board?

Local school boards are, according to the mythology that has grown up around them, small-d democratic institutions that answer to the community and ensure that schools reflect the values and protect the interests of the local body politic. Whereas some reformers have wanted to hold schools “accountable” based on things like test scores or other metrics, school boards are supposed to hold schools accountable the good old-fashioned way, through elections. If schools are not doing what citizens want, they elect a new school board. That school board then oversees the schools, stewarding local tax dollars, hiring and firing key staff, drafting policies, adopting curricula, and approving schedules and calendars.

If you cannot name anyone on your local school board, you are not alone. And that fact — that most people don’t know who is on the school board, what the school board does, or even when to vote for school board members — is the best evidence that traditional public schools are not accountable to citizens.

School boards are opaque institutions because people do not show up to vote in school board elections. They are often held “off-cycle,” that is, on a different date than elections traditionally take place. While almost everyone knows that Election Day is a Tuesday in early November, school board elections are… held… at random times throughout the year. While the President, congresspeople, city councilors, and all the other elected officials in a state or city are elected on the same day, school board members frequently are not.

For example, the school board in Anchorage runs the largest school district in the state and controls a budget of over $570 million. The board is made up of seven members, who each serve rotating three-year terms and represent the entire Anchorage voter base. Municipal representatives, on the other hand, represent districts within the city. At least two of the seven seats are up for election every year. In 2022, two seats were up for general election on April 5. In 2021, four seats were up for general election on April 6. Noticeably, the elections were not held on Election Day in November, when the most people vote.

By moving elections off-cycle, civic leaders have given power over to special interest groups such as local teachers’ unions because, rest assured, those groups ensure their members know when the off-cycle elections are happening. Writes McShane:

When turnout in elections is low, organized interest groups have a huge leg up. By simply getting their members out to vote, they have already secured a large bloc in the electorate. They only need to organize a few more people and they have enough to win the election. Once they have won, they have functionally elected their own bosses. The school board will be the ones who negotiate the teachers’ contract and set their salaries. They will hire the superintendent who is supposed to be the teachers’ manager. They will sit on both sides of the negotiating table.

…Organized interest groups have outsized power in the decision-making processes of school districts. Teacher and administrator unions are able to call the shots to a degree that average citizens simply are not. As a result, simple, commonsense reforms that very few people outside of those interest groups disagree with do not happen, and schools are not democratically accountable to the citizenry.”

Traditional public schools are not academically accountable to students, parents, or anyone else for that matter.

The last hope for accountability, when taxpayers and voters have no ability to impose it, falls to the direct consumers of school services: students and parents. Yet, here McShane’s observations once again present a discouraging picture:

What happens to a public school that receives consistently low standardized test scores? Does it lose funding? Does it get shut down? …While states have created elaborate ‘accountability’ systems for schools, and at times even for teachers, very few schools in practice ever actually receive any substantive penalties for low performance. School funding is not tied to test scores. Schools can underperform for decades and suffer functionally zero consequences….

Let’s walk through what a typical state accountability system looks like. The best source for how a state’s accountability system works is the documentation it sends to the federal government to comply with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). That piece of federal legislation requires states to administer school and district accountability systems but gives substantial flexibility in how states do so. States do, however, have to submit their accountability plan to the federal Department of Education for approval and must, at least in theory, create school performance report cards.

Alaska’s plan includes the establishment of long-term goals for students and details how Alaska identifies low-performing schools and intervenes when necessary. The Alaska DEED identifies low-performing schools using five indicators, and schools receive points from zero to 100 for each:

  • The Academic Achievement. This score is equal to the percentage of students scoring at the proficient or advanced achievement levels on the statewide assessments in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics.
  • Academic Growth. For grades 4 through 9, progress toward proficiency in ELA and mathematics is considered, although DEED has administered three different statewide assessments between 2016 and 2022, which makes it difficult to compare growth over years.
  • Graduation Rate. For high schools, the graduation rate is included.
  • English Learner Progress. For all schools, the percentage of English language learners who either are deemed proficient in English or meet growth targets toward proficiency is calculated using complicated DEED formulas.
  • General School Quality or Student Success. This indicator is calculated using schools’ chronic absenteeism and grade 3 ELA proficiency.

Each of the subgroup scores is calculated based on formulae enumerated in the document and then rolled up into a single score for each school and district. For elementary schools, academic achievement in ELA and mathematics are both worth 15% of the total score; academic growth for both subjects is worth 20%; English-learner progress is worth 15%; the absenteeism score is worth 10%; and the grade 3 ELA proficiency sub-score is worth 5%.

The calculation is even more complicated for schools that serve seventh grade and up. For schools that do not have a 12th grade: academic achievement in ELA and mathematics are both worth 15% of the total score; academic growth for both subjects is 20%; the four-year graduation rate is 15%; the five-year graduation rate is 5%; English-learner progress is 10%; and the absenteeism score is worth 10%. For schools that do serve 12th graders: academic achievement in ELA and mathematics are both worth 30% of the total score; academic growth is not calculated; the four-year graduation rate is 15%; the five-year graduation rate is 5%; English-learner progress is 10%; and the absenteeism score is worth 10%.

Those scores are then weighted further and combined if a school serves K–12.

Even Alaskans’ whose heads don’t hurt by the strange and complicated rules probably have little idea what the final scores truly mean. The accountability seems just as meaningless: The state pledges to intervene in the schools with the lowest scores for at least three years and with high schools that have four-year adjusted graduation rates below 66.66%. According to DEED’s plan, such schools “are held accountable to a rigorous improvement process, supported by district and State resources and support, with reporting of results to stakeholders.” What does any of this mean in terms of action and outcome?

If after three years — really six years, including the three that pass before qualifying for intervention — schools do not improve their performance, the state can step in more forcefully, providing evaluations and performing resource allocation audits, as well as helping to write new strategic plans, assigning School Improvement Coaches, providing training or technical assistance, replacing teachers and principals, or taking over governance of the schools or entire districts. Why the state government that developed the system would be any more competent to implement the practice is another question.

EdChoice gives reason to fear that the state’s solution may simply be to change the rules, because the metrics provided by DEED are arbitrary. In fact, “those designing and implementing the system will always be able to change the weights or metrics to shape the outcome if they don’t like what they see. If too many schools are identified as low-performing, they can give more weight to the easier categories.”

Such cheating may actually be preferable to alternatives, which McShane calls “jiggery pokery.” He writes, “[W]eighting high school graduation rates, which might be the single easiest metric to game in all of education, so high for high school scores pushes schools to hand out caps and gowns and push kids across the stage. Allowing the use of measurements like ‘growth to proficiency’ allows schools to look like they are demonstrating student growth” without truly demonstrating schools’ impact. “In all of these cases, schools and districts are gaming the metrics… preventing them from actually being held accountable.”

In practice, “academic accountability” in K–12 education means schools are required to jump through the hoops set up by state and federal bureaucrats that are loosely related to demonstrating that students have actually learned anything. They are required to fill out paperwork and track down metrics and send them to the appropriate person at the appropriate office by the appropriate date, but ultimately not much happens after that.

Solution

After articulating his three arguments, McShane writes:

So organized interest groups elect their bosses who water down any measurement of their work and pocket the money that people don’t realize they are spending… This all matters to the broader conversation about what families and communities get out of the K–12 system in which they are investing. A purported lack of accountability is a common reason cited to oppose school choice programs. While the typical (and… correct) response is to argue that schools of choice are held accountable by parents, it is also important to challenge the premise that public schools are actually accountable. …

Perhaps a different regime is in order. By empowering families to choose where their children attend school, we could deputize millions of parents as school accountability officers.

By allowing more families to choose the schools that their children attend, Alaska could ensure democratic accountability, academic accountability, and financial accountability in its education system. Schools would be more democratically accountable because institutions that serve families would grow and those that don’t would not. Schools would be more academically accountable because parents could see what and how their children are learning and select schools that, in McShane’s words, “provide a quality education (defined by what characteristics and metrics they feel are most important) and leav[e] schools that aren’t.”

Finally, allowing families to choose the schools that best fit the needs of their children would hold educational institutions more financially accountable via “programs that put student school funding into flexible-use spending accounts that families control and can spend across a host of academic providers. Unlike traditional public schools,” writes McShane, “they have strong incentives to care about cost, as the more cost conscious they are, the more they can purchase with their… funding. They can make the tradeoffs between cost and quality with better information and a stronger motivation than someone not intimately involved in the decision making.” Alaska has already taken steps in this direction, but the state’s efforts could be stronger and more deliberate.

More specifically, Alaska should support alternative educational models and allow funding to follow the students, not the schools. For some families, a traditional public school will still be the best fit, and that’s great! But for many families, traditional public schools are not able to meet the educational needs of their children. At the end of the day, Alaska should be supporting quality education for all our children, not administrators’ and union bosses’ bank