Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Corruption investigations keep rolling in the District. New details continue to drip out about whether Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took undisclosed gifts from a local businessman. And Prince George’s County rolls out a new “chief executive” for its public schools. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Abigail Smith Deputy Mayor for Education, District of Columbia
- Thomas Garrett Member, Virginia Senate (R-22nd District)
Abigail Smith, D.C. deputy mayor for education, says Mayor Vincent Gray is committed to overhauling the “tangled web” of D.C. Public School boundaries. Smith said the mayor is in the process of setting up a timeline for boundary changes, but said she is certain the plan will include “significant grandfathering” and extensive community engagement. “The reality is that changing boundaries takes political courage…The mayor is committed to doing what it takes and taking whatever political hits come with doing the right thing.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring, featuring and with a cameo appearance by Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, joining us in studio as usual.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITom Sherwood, the drip, drip, drip, as you characterized it in your Current Newspaper column this week of the U.S. attorney's prosecutions of corruption in the District of Columbia is continuing, the latest this week being a former professional boxer named Keely Thompson who admitted to a federal wire charge fraud.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's facing 33 months in prison, and apparently, he was getting money from the city to run a program for mentoring youth and a boxing program operating out of a church in Northwest. But apparently, he is a big fan of gambling and Las Vegas and these kinds of places, and that's where a lot of that money was apparently being spent.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYes. At least $100,000 in the one casino in Atlantic City that was mentioned by the prosecutors. Unfortunately, this is kind of -- I consider it as a citizen of the city, just as a -- I hope a decent person. The theft of moneys from children in order to finance a lifestyle of travel and gambling and expensive...
SHERWOOD...objects while the kids are struggling to get into a gym and to learn some discipline from sports and to improve themselves, you're out gallivanting around. I mean this reminds me of Harry Thomas Jr. and his hundreds of thousands of dollars and -- that he took from children and spent it on his own lifestyle. So I'm not sure 33 months is what I would have given but glad to see that this case came to a conclusion.
NNAMDIAs for the aforementioned drip, drip, drip reference in your column, where do you think where dripping to? When will this dripping become a sea or a flood?
SHERWOODWell, your -- we have a mutual friend. You know her name. She'd kill me if I said her name. She said my column was incorrect and saying unrepaired leaky faucet. She said that's unnecessary because it's just a leaky faucet. But this is turning into a stream. You know, we had two people in the last week plead guilty in the fake campaign contributions. We had Tony Cheng and his son plead guilty on attempting to bribe Leon Swain, or they've been indicted. I apologize. They haven't plead guilty. They've been indicted for attempting to bribe Leon Swain to get favorable treatment for some contracts.
NNAMDIFor taxicab licenses.
SHERWOODThey deny it. They say it was not true, but that's all to be played out. But what we have here from Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney, is a progression of people across various aspects of the city government who are mixed up with bad things in the law. And I think it will be speeding up.
NNAMDIBecause this man is clearly building a case, is he not?
SHERWOODRight. No. There are two ways to look at it. I was told by a lawyer. One is that Ronald Machen is now bringing to fruition all the cases that he has, and that's going to be it. Everyone wants to know what he's going to "get the mayor or not," and that maybe he will have all these cases. But he won't get to the mayor, and so that will be seen as a failure. And the others say, well, no, this is just a buildup to possibly bringing actions against the mayor if there's in fact something to bring action against the mayor for.
NNAMDIWell, apparently, the U.S. attorney is an expert in the art of suspense because he's certainly keeping the residents and citizens of the District of Columbia in a lot of suspense. Now, entering the picture is a name we have not heard before in the realm of D.C. politics. He's a freshman congressman, Republican from Michigan by the name of Kerry Bentivolio who has apparently decided that the District of Columbia does not need traffic cameras at all.
NNAMDISo he has introduced legislation to essentially shut down those traffic cameras, leading D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to urge him to return to Michigan to run for local office if he's such a big fan of traffic laws. But it once again underscores how the lack of voting rights makes the District so vulnerable.
SHERWOODYes. He hasn't yet introduced the bill. We were up at his office yesterday to speak with him and spoke with his very polite press secretary, and they gave us a statement later that, you know, that this -- the bill is still in the works, although Ms. Norton released a copy of the bill that's been circulating. It simply prohibits speed cameras or red-light cameras. And, of course, in my story, she has a temper, as we all know.
SHERWOODShe's called the wild woman for a reason, but she was usually -- she's fairly polite when she talks on TV. When she was gridding her teeth when she talked to me about this intrusion by what -- this Tea Party Republican from Michigan. And I think she's not going to let it go. She sounded personally offended. And, of course, those of us who live in the city do kind of feel personally offended when...
NNAMDIBecause even though we may complain about how much the tickets cost or one thing or another, in the final analysis, the notion that a freshman congressman from Michigan can simply wake up one morning -- this is a guy who doesn't even drive in the District of Columbia, and decide, oh, they don't need any more traffic cameras, and have the power and authority to introduce legislation that could theoretically get passed.
SHERWOODThey certainly have the authority under the Constitution, the 535 members of Congress, as Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the senator from Texas, once famously said, oh, you have representation. You know, you have 535 of us to look after you. It sounded like a plantation. But -- so they do have the legal right to intrude on local affairs, but whether a Tea Party Republican who believes in the best government is the local government and the smallest government, it seems that that would be kind of counteractive to what you believe.
NNAMDIAnd they tend to be encouraged to act in this way if people respond in the manner that Councilmember Tommy Wells apparently responded when "Loose Lips" reached him about this. He said this was his worst nightmare coming true. It's exactly the kind of thing I was afraid of when the mayor started running the tickets too high.
SHERWOODWell, it is politics here, but, you know, Tommy Wells is running for mayor...
NNAMDIHe's running for mayor.
SHERWOOD...himself. He's announced candidate. And, yeah, for him to be critical of Mayor Gray or, you know, for this issue is it's not a surprise, and it is -- anytime the city does anything that goes forward, whether it's same-sex marriage that was approved here or speed cameras, you always run the risk of irritating someone on Capitol Hill, because if they want to put a Ferris wheel on Pennsylvania Avenue, they can.
NNAMDIBut you don't wimp out every time somebody on Capitol Hill decides that they're going to impose their will on the District of Columbia. But I digress.
SHERWOODYes, you do.
NNAMDIWe do have a guest in studio. She is the deputy mayor for education of the District of Columbia. Abigail Smith, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. ABIGAIL SMITHThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIIf you have comments or questions about education or specific questions for Abigail Smith, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. There are a lot of people in D.C. government involved with education right now. We talk regularly with the chancellor. A few weeks ago, we spoke with the chairman of the Council's Committee on Education. Before we get into policy here, where does the deputy mayor for education fit into this kind of puzzle?
SMITHSo a lot of people have that question. It can be a little bit confusing, but let me see if I can lay that out for you. So the deputy mayor for education is the mayor's chief policy adviser on issues of education, from early childhood on up through postsecondary education and adult ed and everything in between.
SMITHAnd the role of the deputy mayor's office is to coordinate a strategy for public education across the city -- so from across all those age groups -- and then also thinking about both our D.C. public schools and our public charter schools so that we're thinking in a strategic way about how we're leveraging all of our assets.
NNAMDIThe thrust of your job -- if indeed it is -- to help carry out the mayor's vision when it comes to education, what can you say is the mayor's vision for education? He made a speech about this last week. What essentially do you think he was trying to get across?
SMITHSo I think there are a couple of basic things. So, one, the mayor talked about how, over the course of the last 15 years or so, there have been a number of really dramatic changes in terms of how we approach public education in the city. So 15 years ago, we started charter schools here in D.C., and obviously there's been immense growth in the charter school sector to the point where now 43 percent of our public school students are in charters.
SMITHIn 2007, the governance structure for D.C. public schools changed so that there's now a very clear line of accountability and authority where the chancellor is responsible to the mayor and not to a school board, which created some lack of clarity and sense of purpose. And the development of universal pre-K has been another really big reform step that D.C. has taken.
SMITHWe're now at a point where the mayor believes our focus needs to be on urgently increasing the number of high-quality seats that are available to all kids and that, in doing that, we need to think about how we can leverage both the D.C. public schools and the charter sector so that rather than thinking about this as a zero-sum game between neighborhood schools on the one hand and school choice on the other hand, that we can actually think about it in a more collaborative way where we can value both neighborhood schools and choice, see growth in both areas.
NNAMDIBut does that not fly in the face of the reason charter schools were created in the first place? They were supposed to encourage a healthy competition, if you will, between charter schools and the public school system. And now what the mayor seems to be doing is trying to encourage a healthy collaboration between the two.
SMITHWell, I think that the two really do go hand in hand and that part of what has happened with charter schools is it has challenged DCPS to think about things a little bit differently, and Chancellor Henderson will talk about how charter schools have really pushed her to up her game and think about what the offerings are for parents.
SMITHAt the same time, from a parent's perspective, what's most important is that they have an option to and have access to a high-quality school that is going to serve their children's needs well. And whether that's a DCPS school or a charter school is of less importance to most parents than it is a good school.
SHERWOODWhen you talk about your -- well, first of all, welcome to the program.
SHERWOODWhen you talk about your role in the hierarchy of education in the city, where does the Council, the D.C. Council, the D.C. Education Committee Chair David Catania fit in that?
SMITHWell, obviously, the Council and under the leadership of the Education Committee, Councilmember Catania is responsible for ensuring that whatever the legislative supports are that need to happen in order to drive forward school reform and improve outcomes for kids that those legislative pieces are happening.
SMITHAnd the mayor is really pleased, as am I, with the level of urgency that Councilmember Catania is bringing to the work. So he obviously has, since he took on the response of this committee, has jumped in with both feet and is really committed to the same -- very same issues that I talked about in terms of wanting to improve outcomes for kids.
SHERWOODThis is The Politics Hour. I do know that you've had some fairly tense private conversations -- if I use the word tense, it would be fairly inclusive -- conversations with Mr. Catania, who can have a temper on some of these issues.
NNAMDIIn other words, we know you're being diplomatic right now.
SHERWOODYes. But his -- the Council -- I went back, and his office gave me the legislation. It shows that the Council does have enrollment. He's proposing significant changes in money and lots of managerial style changes that some people thought go beyond the law. But it seems that he's working within the law.
SHERWOODAre you -- could you say that you, the mayor -- and they had a meeting, I think, last week for the first time, sometime, the mayor and Catania. Are they on the same page? Because any kinds of reforms can get off the rails very quickly if you've got different competing interests pulling apart rather than together.
SMITHYeah. I think, overall, in terms of the goals, I think there's actually pretty good synergy in terms of where the mayor is and where Councilmember Catania is. And that's good news to your point that there's not a lot of folks who sort of want to -- you know, are sort of driving towards different directions. I think the differences lie in the degree, in some cases, the degree to which legislation is required to be able to move towards that and then some of the specifics.
SMITHSo let me throw a couple of the specifics regarding the councilmember's legislation. So there are a number of things that the mayor and the councilmember are really in full agreement on and that we really think make sense to drive forward in terms of the legislation. So among those are increasing the transit subsidy for students. So we don't want the cost of a Metro or bus ride to stand in the way of kids getting to school. So...
SHERWOODParticularly it's the truancies, if not the number one problem, maybe number two.
SMITHAbsolutely. So that's a significant one. Another thing that the councilmember's legislation does is it it creates some additional opportunities for the Public Charter School Board to be able to close down low-performing schools. And we think that's important that part of the deal of charters is that you get more autonomy, but there's increased accountability for that. And there are a couple of provisions that Councilmember Catania has added that allow the Public Charter School Board to do that more effectively.
SMITHAnd then there are some things where, in principle, there is really strong alignment. So, for example, the councilmember has a bill to develop a common application in the lottery that would merge all of the charter school lotteries and the DCPS out-of-boundary lottery. We think that's a great idea, and, in fact, we think it's such a good idea that we're already down the road towards doing it.
SMITHAnd our timeline has this coming lottery season will have that common application and common lottery. Our issue with the bill is not in the principle of doing it -- 'cause, as I say, we're working with the (word?) to do exactly that -- but rather legislating the details of it when we think what makes more sense is for all of the schools, both charter schools in DCPS that are engaged, to collaboratively work together, design something that works.
NNAMDIOur guest is Abigail Smith. She is the deputy mayor for education of the District of Columbia. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. If you have questions or comments for the deputy mayor, give us a call at 800-433-8850, or send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIYou can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. If you've already called, stay on the line. We'll get to your calls shortly. Another specific from Councilmember Catania is to channel at least 80 percent of school funding directly to the schools and to put budgeting at the discretion of the schools. How do you feel about that?
SMITHSo right now, DCPS, on average, sends right about 80 percent of its funds to schools. So, again, in principle, the notion that schools need to have most of the money directly, you know, in their budgets, makes a ton of sense and is how the chancellor currently operates. I think the issue there is allowing the chancellor the flexibility to be able to look at needs of different schools and look at what things she can more effectively provide centrally and be able to have that flexibility as the chancellor.
SMITHSo, for example, you have a school like Wilson, which right now actually has among the lowest, if not the lowest, per-pupil funding among all the DCPS schools. There are a number of reasons for that. One of which is just size. They're big, and that allows them to have some economies of scale even within their school. But also some of the needs that some of other high schools have are more acute than Wilson in terms of some of what students are bringing to school. And so the chancellor needs to be able to have some flexibility to be able to allocate resources where they're needed.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Please put on your headphones because Warren in Largo, Md. would like to speak with you. Warren, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WARRENYes. I have a question and a comment. Thank you for taking my call. First question is when will D.C. have a system-elected school board and a qualified PhD superintendent to go with that? And my comment is -- Kojo, I sent you an email from my partner in crime, Lorenzo Alexander. He's a football player for Arizona now, but he used to be with the Redskins.
WARRENAnd he and I worked the Readers are Leaders program in the school system. We worked with one school in particular, Miner Elementary, that has -- or had a great principal, Ms. Bunch. And for no reason, she was let go. And his letter addresses that. You have my email that I forwarded to you, in regards to that.
NNAMDII sure do.
WARRENYes. It appears as though the principal's on a one-year contract. Now, what quality principals are you going to get -- what quality employees, period, are you going to get on a one-year contract? And why is this process so short and brief in terms of people being told that they are let go without any reason?
NNAMDIThey feel that there is not enough input from parents. Abigail Smith.
SMITHSo with respect to principals and the principals' contract, you're right that principals are at-will employees that are on a yearly contract. And that's something that, you know, managers of -- in many fields would tell you is the kind of flexibility that you need to be able ensure that the right leaders are in place throughout your organization. The situation that you're talking about is a, you know, very individual personnel situation, which, you know, I don't know all the details of and if I did, you know, wouldn't, of course, be able to share them because those are confidential personnel matters.
SMITHAnd the chancellor is making decisions every year based on what she thinks is best for a school. There are opportunities for families to engage when there is an opening for a new principal, and there is paneling process that very directly engage these families from schools because we do think that it's really important that families are part of that process and are able to contribute to the selection of a new school leader of the school.
SHERWOODThe caller suggested that Chancellor Henderson may not be qualified with her, I guess, academic degrees or whatever she has. And he also said, when would we have a city-elected school board? I guess that's outside your responsibility. But there is not going to be a school board, according to the law. I mean, we have the elected school board, but it's not -- doesn't have nearly the power that some people would like for it to have back.
SMITHYeah. So the board that we have now is a state board that provides some, you know, policy guidance and approval for our state education agency. And the move that the Council made in 2007 away from an elected school board was expressly for the purpose of ensuring a very clear line of accountability of the mayor.
SHERWOODIs Ms. Henderson -- I mean, you fully support her, I presume, when we hear you say it.
SMITHI absolutely fully support Chancellor Henderson and, frankly, have no doubts about her qualification. I think that the notion that, you know, a particular degree is going to be what qualify someone to be effective or not, you know, is all but silly.
NNAMDIThank you very for you call, Warren. You too can call us, 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODWhen I spoke with Ms. Henderson, the chancellor, on Capitol Hill with the Hill Center forum, we talked about -- the city's been through a lot of changes. You enumerated some of them as you were speaking there. And I attempted to read the mayor's speech. But, frankly, it's too long. I'll have to read it over the weekend.
SHERWOODBut she was concerned that we don’t make any great leap-forward changes. Now, then let's solidify some of the reforms we're making and don't rewrite the rules. Are you, at all, concerned that Mr. Catania might be trying to rewrite some of the rules while you guys are trying to run the train?
SMITHI think there is that concern with some of the legislation, and we're certainly, you know, going to share some of those concerns directly with Councilor Catania. I got a hearing on Tuesday. We're all having an opportunity to do that, and I do think that making sure that we focus on the hard work within the structures that are in place that, I think, frankly, are the right structures.
SMITHBut it doesn't make the work any, you know, any less difficult. We got to buckle down and do the hard work. And the mayor talked about scaling up pockets of excellence and making sure that we're providing access for more kids, strengthening programs that, you know, that we currently have, and then simplifying some of these processes for parents, so that there's easier access to opportunities.
SHERWOODI had the mayor's speech right here. I printed it out in big type, so even I could read it. Has he said anything about the bound -- did he say anything about the boundary changes? And one thing Mr. Catania did was delay the boundary changes until the 2015 school year. It seems like that might be a good thing given how fast time is passing.
SMITHYeah. The mayor did say something with the boundary changes although it's towards the end of the speech. So you just haven't got to it quite yet.
SMITHAnd the mayor does commit in his speech, and we're committed to addressing the really tangled web of boundaries that exist right now in DCPS after 40 years of not overhauling school boundaries. In terms of the timeline and our approach to doing that, there are a couple of things that I can say about that. We're in the process of setting the timeline, although, as you say, there's certain specific limitations that Councilmember Catania laid out in the Budget Support Act, which we're completely fine with.
SHERWOODHis point being he did not want parents to be confronted with last minute changes where they have to figure out how to get the lotteries, how -- where they're going to live, what they're going to do.
SMITHAbsolutely. And it's the right thing to be concerned about. I mean, there are two things that I can tell you for certain that will be part of this process. One is that it will have extensive community engagement. Boundary changes are one of the things that affects communities the most when it comes to school systems.
SMITHAnd we want to ensure that there are multiple opportunities for families to understand what proposals are on the table and to give their input. And then the second piece is that any changes we make will have significant grandfathering within them, so that families can plan ahead and that nobody is, you know, all of a sudden, the rug is yanked out from under them.
SHERWOODAnd, in fact, I have last question.
SHERWOODEvery time I've discussed this subject with people, particularly boundaries, I get the pushback from parents and others who are worried most about middle school that they can be involved when they have kids at elementary school. But as the children mature and get older into teenager years, they were concerned that the school system still does not have a good, strong handle on the middle schools as a passage to the high schools. Any thoughts on that?
SMITHSo there's no question that middle school has been a real challenge. It's a challenge nationally. It's why you see lots of different models for middle schools -- standalone middle schools, K-8, six through 12. People are always trying to figure out how to work with the middle schools. I think there's been some good progress in D.C., both on the charter side and on the DCPS side, in terms of middle schools.
SMITHA couple of things the DCPS is doing in the coming year, joining together Francis-Stevens, which is a K-8, with School Without Walls, so that those middle grade students will have access to some of the approach and programming of School Without Walls. Same thing with McKinley which will be adding a middle school that will sit -- share that same building and, again, be able to connect with some of those resources.
SHERWOODAnd I did think of this. You know, Mayor Gray is not...
NNAMDIYou said that question was your last question.
SHERWOODWell, as -- I'm typical media. Mayor Gray has not yet said whether he's going to run for re-election. As we go into this potentially contentious boundary thing, you know, if the mayor decides he's not going to run or he just simply doesn't announce till much later, that seems to me your political power to make changes is going to be undermined if the mayor is seen as a lame duck.
SMITHIn terms of boundaries, you're talking about?
SHERWOODYeah, just essentially because of, you know, whatever the mayor wants. If he's not running for re-election, then he's a lame duck.
SMITHWell, I think that, you know, in -- the reality is that changing boundaries takes political courage because, again, the people who are unhappy about the changes you make are always going to be much louder than the people who are happy. And I think the mayor is committed to doing what it takes and, you know, taking whatever political hits, you know, come with doing the right thing for changing boundaries.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Molly, who says, "How is Raise DC being prioritized and funded? It was the deputy mayor's predecessor's priority but has gone silent. Is it going to be closed down or funded by the city?" You may want to start by explaining exactly what Raise DC is.
SMITHSo Raise DC is the cradle-to-career initiative that seeks to link the -- a community that serves civic infrastructure with the work that is also going on in government across that whole range. So how are we going to improve outcomes for young children all the way up through, you know, throughout youth and young adults cradle-to-career?
SMITHSo here's what's happening with Raise DC, which is actually pretty exciting and a model that we've seen in other cities. As the caller noted, Raise DC was incubated in the office of the deputy mayor for education, and we still have a staff member who's devoted to that within my shop. It is in the process of moving to the community foundation which will be the new home of Raise DC.
SMITHAnd the notion is that to have this kind of civic infrastructure sit outside of government provides the stability and longevity to withstand changes in administration over the years because this is not a four-year or an eight-year endeavor. This is a 15, 20 and 50-year endeavor to really continue to push these outcomes forward, so it will live at the community foundation.
NNAMDIHere is Mark in Lisbon, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHi, Kojo. We hear a lot of discussion all the time on your show about education in D.C., and I was wondering 'cause I haven't ever heard anybody discuss it, but do they have trade schools for high school students and even middle school students for blue-collar trades? With so many good jobs available in HVAC, in auto mechanics, in electrical, plumbing and building, engineering, welding, is that available to the kids in D.C.?
NNAMDIYou know, we had a caller the other day who said that chances are that a lawyer is going to need an electrician more than an electrician will need a lawyer. Abigail Smith.
SMITHI like that. So, yes, there are crew and technical education programs that are available to students in D.C., both in D.C. public schools and in the charter -- in the public charter schools. And there are actually a couple of exciting things coming down the road.
SMITHWe've just established a new partnership with the National Academy Foundation which helps schools to set up really high quality career in technical education programs that are accredited through the National Academy Foundation and then are linked up with local businesses that provide the internships and supports for this sort of real-world aspect of that work. And that is all going to be linked with what we know are both the high demand and the high wage fields that we are seeing in the city, so that we're linking it up with our workforce development.
SHERWOODIt's certainly true that the school system and many others walked away from physical ed -- what am I trying to say? Not physical ed -- vocational program. We've got the Hospitality High School, which has gotten pretty good remarks, and we've got the Phelps School and some others. But clearly, school system -- all right.
SMITHAnd we've got a Construction Academy in Cardozo that's been...
SHERWOODSchool systems walked away from these just-go-get-a-job type skills.
SMITHYeah. I mean, I think, what we know is that the skills that it takes to get a high-paying job and to be prepared for college are actually very, very close to each other. And we want to provide kids with the opportunities to make choices all the way up through high school to be able to pursue some kind of post-secondary, and that could be a four-year college. It could also be an apprenticeship program or another post-secondary training program that prepares you for a trade that is -- that's a good paying job.
SHERWOODYou're having trouble with some technology though. Just, again, to go back to Mr. Catania wanted more money into the technology, says it's the way children learn from the now, from the very small -- they're learning on devices that are not readily available in the schools. Chancellor Henderson told me, well, one of our problems is securing these devices. We buy them, and they're stolen.
SMITHYeah. No, it is a challenge and, of course, not a challenge unique to DCPS. It's a challenge a lot of school districts are trying to figure out. There has, you know, as you probably know from your conversation with Chancellor Henderson, there's nobody who's more excited about technology in schools than the chancellor.
SMITHAnd there are a number of programs, again, in both DCPS and public charter schools that are really leveraging technology with one-to-one computers for kids and blended learning programs where students are spending time on, you know, working both with teachers but also on online programs that are really adaptive to the levels that they're at.
NNAMDIHere is Jeffrey in Adams Morgan. Jeffrey, your turn.
JEFFREYHi. Thank you for taking my call. I'm curious how you feel -- Ms. Smith feels about the mayor -- Councilmember Catania's proposal to increase funding for the -- for free and reduced-price lunch at schools in the District.
SMITHGood question, Jeffrey. So here's sort of two parts on this. So, one, as Councilmember Catania has noted in his proposal, it is a common weight that many jurisdictions have within their funding formula to provide additional funds for low-income kids. It's actually a weight that D.C. had a number of years ago. It's not one that currently is in our formula. We have weights for kids with various levels of special need, for kids who are learning English and a number of other things.
SMITHSo does it make sense to provide additional resources for low-income kids because they're coming to school with greater needs? Yeah, I think we would absolutely agree with that. I think the question is, how you build that weight within the broader funding formula? So our funding formula, as I noted, has a number of different weights, and we want to make sure that we're looking at it really holistically. So that we're considering whether there are additional costs that ought to be adjusted in the funding formula.
SMITHMy office is in the tail end now of a -- an adequacy study that is trying to really nail down what the cost of educating all of our various types of kids to the extent that you can categorize that and translate that into a funding formula. And in September, we'll be putting forth a proposal that looks at all the weights in our funding formula including this question of a weight for low-income kids.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we are almost out of time, but we did get one question from Molly that you might be able to answer briefly. Molly asks, "Why is there no public organizational chart of the various educational elements, the relationships among the office of the state, DCPS, Henderson, DME, the mayor, the Council, the school board and the public charter board? Because it is so unknown in terms of who has authority over whom."
SMITHSo here's what I will say. I've been in this job for 2 1/2 months, and I agree with Molly. I don't think I've seen such a chart. There may be one around, but if there isn't, I will make it my business to create one and make sure it's up on our website.
NNAMDIAbigail Smith is the deputy mayor for education of the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIYou're listening to "The Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, the owner of the Washington Redskins, Dan Snyder, presented on a program that he apparently hosts an individual who was identified as a full-blooded Indian, Chief Stephen Dodson. And that individual endorsed the name of the team that so many other people find offensive, said he nor the entire nation that he leads do not find it offensive.
NNAMDIAnd then along comes Dave McKenna who, as you may remember, because of a previous article that the City Paper sued by Dan Snyder. However, he did the required digging that reporters do and discovered that the aforementioned Stephen Dodson is neither a full-blooded Indian nor an official chief, that chief is simply his nickname.
SHERWOODAn illusion from -- an illusion, I believe, is the correct term.
SHERWOODWell, this is just a misstep, let me just say, by the owner of the Redskins. The Washington posted a poll that showed a substantial majority of people think the -- who are fans of the team, a substantial majority, even a group -- a majority of people who don't or not identified as fans say that they're not offended by the name.
SHERWOODThere is a substantial -- a minority of people who are, in fact, very offended by the name. And I don't think the owner of the team helps himself with bringing this person on without doing a full check of who he is, what lies there. But I don't know if Dan Snyder was fooled by this person himself or, you know, knew that there were questions about what his background is.
SHERWOODSo we're just going to, you know, those 10 members of Congress introduce a bill or to hold a hearing and to ban the name. We're in a very sensitive time period now, and this doesn't help the team at all to have, as McKenna said, a fake chief endorsing.
NNAMDIA full chief, so to speak, endorsing the name of the team. On to the Commonwealth of Virginia where The Washington Post reports this week that a prominent political donor purchased a Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell at the request of the governor's wife, Maureen McDonnell. That donor, of course, being businessman Johnny R Williams who we have talked about before.
NNAMDIWhat is more significant here is that this was a gift that was not reported by the governor who is required to report gifts. And when questioned about it in an interview yesterday, he said he didn't want to comment on it at this time. But there is a federal investigation taking place about what's going on there, but it just, on the face of it, doesn't look good.
SHERWOODYes. And it's Maureen, McDonnell's wife -- Mark Segraves, from our station, tried to talk to the governor about this. He didn't want to talk about it. But as you've said, this is the first undisclosed gift that seems to have been personally used by the governor. And I was trying to think of some way to say this. I'm thinking old McDonnell's farm. We've got all these chickens running around. This could be more and more issues of how many chickens are in this scandal.
SHERWOODAnd the governor is going to keep saying, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation. But it's a very difficult situation for him. He's -- it's a great fall for someone who is going to be a vice presidential nominee, someone who has gotten a pretty good reputation for steering the Commonwealth of Virginia as governor. And to see these kind of small -- well, I guess a $6,500 watch is not small, but these are kind of an insult to the citizens of the city until this is cleared -- I mean, the state until this is cleared up.
NNAMDISpeaking of the state of Virginia now, joining us is a member of the Virginia Senate. Thomas Garrett is a Republican who represents Virginia's 22nd District. He previously served as Commonwealth's attorney for Louisa County. He joins us by phone. Thomas Garrett, thank you for joining us.
SEN. THOMAS GARRETTKojo, always a pleasure, and please call me Tom.
SHERWOODWe'll call you senator.
NNAMDISen. Tom is what we'll call you.
SHERWOODSen. Garrett, you worked hard to earn that title. You ought to use it.
GARRETTWell, I think when the founders established the republic that they recognized that we're all citizens and people in that regard. So you guys are welcome to call me Tom if you like.
NNAMDIWell, if you'd like to join this conversation, if you have questions or comments for Tom Garrett, you can call us at 800-433-8850. We spoke last year as Virginia was debating a law to enhance ID requirements to vote. Now that the Supreme Court has essentially wiped out a critical piece of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states across the country have more freedom to press forward with changes to their voting systems.
NNAMDIThe governor said earlier this week that Virginia, which has a new photo ID law going into effect for next year's elections, is in limbo until Congress decides what to do. But he later said that apparently, the Supreme Court decision does not stand in the way of this going forward. What do you feel?
GARRETTWell, I mean, I think that where we've seen instances of photo ID law is implemented both in Voting Rights Act states and the non-Voting Rights Act states and I think -- I believe Indiana and Michigan as well as Georgia have done this. But there's not been a reduction in minority voter turnout. In fact, in Georgia, which one of the states, the nine states fully covered by Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, there was a measurable uptick in African-American voting presentation.
GARRETTAnd you referred to it as a critical provision in the Voting Rights Act. And I would agree that it was absolutely critical in the 1960s. But I think we've come a long, long way. I learned the other day or heard on a program that Virginia was the number one state in the nation by percentage of biracial marriage certificates applied for. And we also have a state that's voted in two elections in a row for President Obama, our first African-American president.
GARRETTAnd we have an election cycle that we just completed, where for the first time in history, African-American voter turnout as a percentage was higher than any other racial or ethnic group. And so these are all, I think, indicators that while it was indeed a critical portion of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that the court got it right in saying we're no longer there. So then that sets us back to what is the concept of federalism as it relates to these things.
GARRETTAnd the federalist concept would allow these sorts of things to be determined by the state. It was only where there was a compelling interest to correct past discrimination that the federal government involved itself vis-a-vis Voting Rights Act. And I think, the example that cite, indicate clearly that we're beyond that point. Thank God.
SHERWOODSenator, what is the specific provision of the your -- of the new law for Virginia that takes effect for the elections after -- in 2014. You must show a photo ID, a government-issued photo -- what kind of -- what is the requirement?
GARRETTWell, it's for first-time voters who are new on the rolls. So you wouldn't need to show a photo ID each time you voted. But when you move and you are new on the rolls, they could ask you to produce a photo ID. What the governor has done with the bill is essentially set for anyone who does not have a qualifying photo ID, we'll produce one for you. And, you know, the real debate about that at the general assembly, at least what I thought was the most legitimate thing was, what's the physical impact here?
GARRETTNow, what are we trying to remedy that is the potential for fraud in voting versus what's the costs to remedy it. And so there was a real price tag although the number of individuals to whom this would apply is relatively miniscule. So it would be for first-time voters, they'd need to produce an ID from a recognized list of IDs. And the commonwealth is going to step up for people who can say, hey, I don't have, you know, a state-issued ID and make sure that those are available. So...
GARRETT...I think the real argument when we're making the bill was, is the money that we spend to make these photo IDs available justifiable in view of the, you know, frequency or for feared frequency of fraudulent voting?
SHERWOODI'm not a resident of the commonwealth, but everyone around the nation saw in your state and other places the very long lines at the county. And the state was not prepared for the overwhelming number of people who stood in line many -- for many, many hours to vote. Has there been any move in the general assembly to improve the ability to make voting available to people?
GARRETTYeah, what we have now is a problem as we transition from various touchscreens to optical scans and various different types of voting machines. And you're absolutely correct that there were ridiculously and unacceptably long lines in certain areas. The funny thing was where the percentage of turnout was equally high in other jurisdictions, the lines didn't exist.
GARRETTAnd so I think what we need to do -- and I believe Senator Petersen had a bill, we spoke to this last session -- is we need to make sure that, A, we finally get to a uniform system that is what we can agree is the fast, most efficient, most accurate way of, you know, voting and then tallying those votes. And then we need to make sure that the men and women who are kind enough to work for really, you know, peanuts, figuratively, at the polling places know just how the systems works because it is -- there's no argument that there were unacceptably long lines in some localities.
GARRETTIn some, you know -- but having said that, you have one locality in, for example, Prince William County that had abysmal lines and then, you know, another voting precinct over that weren't there. So I think it's about standardization of equipment and training. And, unfortunately, the warts and pimples of democracy as we try to get the most efficient and reliable system of administering elections, you know, people got to be trained up.
GARRETTSo it's something we need to continue to look at. I would tip my hat to Chap Petersen for having had a bill on this subject matter. And there's no doubt that we're going to continue to look at that moving forward.
NNAMDIOur guest is Thomas Garrett. He joins us by phone. He's a member of the Virginia Senate, a Republican who represents Virginia's 22nd District, previously served as commonwealth attorney for Louisa County. Tom Garrett, you said that the purpose of the voter ID is to remedy the potential for voter fraud in Virginia. What do you say to skeptics who say, look, you guys have been conducting elections for more than a century? There has been no significant fraud. What indications do you have of a sudden widening potential for voter fraud?"
GARRETTWell, I mean, you know, Kojo, we talked about this on your show last year. I actually have prosecuted and convicted people for voter fraud. You've got an instance in Ohio, I believe, where a lady admitted to voting multiple times. You got multiple anecdotal instances where a young man went in to vote, I guess, in Washington, D.C. claiming to be Eric Holder. And it was pretty clear that he wasn't but they were going to let him go vote. So the potential exists.
GARRETTI always say that -- for people who say there is no voting fraud, that's like a storeowner saying there's no shoplifting because they hadn't caught anybody in the last month. Now, the real debate, I think, amongst people of various political parties is the scope and breadth and then what's appropriate to remedy it. So therein lies the debate over the cost of providing photo IDs.
GARRETTI think that whenever there's one fraudulent ballot, and we know to a metaphysical certainty that there are every single national election cycle -- I mean, it's one (unintelligible) here and there, but we find them -- that it waters down the franchise of everybody so that your vote and mine needs to be worth 1.000 votes, right?
GARRETTBut when there's one fraudulently cast ballot, then your vote may become worth .999. And that's, you know, that's not right. And so I think the real debate is a cost-benefit analysis. We know there's voter fraud. We know that for a fact. To say that there is not voter fraud is dishonest. Now, we can debate scale and then what -- and then the question becomes what's appropriate to do to eliminate voter fraud on the scale that it exist, whether it's infinitesimal or whether it's more prevalent.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about perception for a second because you could be absolutely correct that you're remedying the potential for voter fraud. But the demographics of the country and of Virginia are changing every day. There are lot of states throughout the South. New York Times ran a piece this week about how Republicans in such places may be now tempted to gain more leverage with what the Times calls restrictive voting laws.
NNAMDIBut you do so at the risk that you'll be alienating minorities that are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the electorate because the perception of these voter ID laws is that they are intended to restrict minority voters who tend to vote Democratic in the same way that the perception of the -- of opposition to the immigration changes by Republicans in Congress tends to give minorities or -- and especially Hispanics the perception that the Republican Party is opposed to them.
NNAMDIWhat concerns do you have about whether such policies are short-sighted and whether you and your colleagues are setting yourselves up for a long-term reckoning with constituencies that are only going to grow?
GARRETTWell, perception exists because The New York Times and other outlets dismissed the facts of it immediately upon attempting to create a story. I mean, this is a straw man set up to, A, mobilize and, B, elicit fear in people. But the real statistics that I quoted earlier are that for the first time in American history, a minority group, notably African-Americans, voted in a higher percentage than any other group.
GARRETTAnd that leaves Georgia, which was one of the nine states impacted by the -- totally impacted by -- I believe with mine and then four more partially, heavily impacted by the Voting Rights Act. After photo ID was implemented, the African-American voter turnout went up. And so you can't divorce yourself from the reality of the math. I mean, we got a political drumbeat of people who just don't believe in math, I don't suppose.
GARRETTWhat we're trying to ensure is the sanctity of the ballots for everyone. There's no empirical data, no empirical data to suggest that minority voter turnout is suppressed by ensuring that each person that votes is the person who they say they are. There is, however, empirical that show that there is no systematic successful effort to disenfranchise anybody.
GARRETTSo you can imply motives upon people all day long, but you have to also assume that the people to whom you've described these motives are idiots because if that's what they're trying to do, if that's voter ID seeks to do, it didn't work and you think they'd stop. So...
GARRETT...you can talk about perception all you want. But when you look at the actual numbers in practice, the trends are to the opposite direction. And, you know, honestly, as I sit here, what I want to do is make sure that every single qualified voter, whether black or white or Latino or what have you, gets exactly one vote and not any more and any less. And, you know, if there were some ulterior, nefarious motive to suppress the vote, I'd have to be an idiot to support these kinds of measures because, historically, that's not what these things do.
GARRETT(unintelligible) that they do.
SHERWOODSenator, even some national Republicans have looked at national trends and demographic trends, which are also empirical, in showing that younger voters are -- as people age, younger voters who are coming on the scene are skeptical of voter ID laws. And maybe that the media misreports them, but they -- that, that they're more in favoring of the immigration laws and the -- of the -- making people legal in this country.
SHERWOODThey're more in favor of same-sex laws, many of this across-the-board social, political issues that Virginia has worried about. Are you concerned at all that demographics are against you as time goes by?
NNAMDISpeaking of time, you only have about a minute left.
GARRETTI'm not worried about anything except for doing what I told the voters that elected me I was going to do when I ran and doing what I think is right within the federal scheme and the republic that we inherited from our founders. Ultimately, I agree that younger voters tend to lean more to the left. I believe it was 1946 when Winston Churchill said, if you show me someone who's young and not a bit liberal, I'll show someone without a heart.
GARRETTIf you show me someone who's older and not a big conservative, I'll show you someone without a brain. So I believe that these younger voters that certainly tend to lean to the left may gravitate toward the right as they get families and grow older. We'll see. Time will tell. But I'm not a national Republican meter. I'm Tom Garrett, and I do what I think is right. And I tell people what I'm going to do when I run, and then I try do it when I'm elected.
NNAMDITom Garrett, he is a member of the Virginia Senate. He is a Republican who represents Virginia's 22nd District. He previously served as commonwealth's attorney for Louisa County. Tom Garret, thank you very much for joining us.
GARRETTThank you guys. It was a pleasure.
SHERWOODThank you, Senator.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, in the few seconds we have left, the D.C. Council passed a living wage bill requiring big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target to pay their employees no less that 12.50 an hour even though the current citywide minimum is $8.25.
SHERWOODYes, they did. But they put it in a square footage, something at 75,000 square footage for that in -- so that's going to change who's affected by the law.
NNAMDIAnd that's all the time we have. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHave a good weekend.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
We explore the lessons from cities that have boosted their minimum wage as D.C. activists try to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Kojo sits down with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to talk about her first months on the job, how she's prioritizing public health needs, and how her personal story instructs her vision for health policy and progress in Baltimore.