How Much Have We Lost?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

VA League of Conservation Voters Names Surovell Legislative Heroes

This week, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters release their 2010 Legislative Scorecard. I am honored to have received a 100% rating and to be named a 2010 Conservation Hero. Below is my press release regarding the Scorecard and award.

June 30, 2010
*****FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE*****

Contact: Christopher Bea, Legislative Assistant
DelSSurovell@house.virginia.gov

Delegate Scott Surovell was named a “2010 Conservation Hero” by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters in recognition of his support of conservation issues during the 2010 legislative session. “Virginia’s natural resources are one of our most vital assets and we have a responsibility to keep the Commonwealth clean and beautiful” said Surovell. Surovell was one of eighteen delegates to receive a 100% rating from the VALCV.

The VALCV was founded in 2000 as a non-partisan political voice for the Commonwealths conservation community. "In his first year at the General Assembly, Delegate Surovell has shown great commitment to protecting our land, air and water," said Lisa Guthrie, Executive Director of VALCV. "He has already demonstrated leadership by introducing innovative energy legislation that shows great promise for the future."

Surovells 100% rating reflects his votes on issues ranging from air quality to off-shore oil drilling. “Virginia and the nation as a whole is faced with critical decisions regarding energy and the environment,” said Surovell. “It is an honor to be recognized by the VALCV.” Surovell has long been active in conservation advocacy, having worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council and as a volunteer at Huntley Meadows Park.

House Bill 833, introduced by Surovell was one of the pieces of legislation VALCV used to in its scoring. Home energy audits are exploding in popularity due to heightened awareness, increased energy costs, and government incentives to encourage home energy efficiency. There are currently no government standards regarding what constitutes a home energy audit or any standards governing the profession. HB 833 created a system of regulation for home energy auditors and was supported by both industry and conservation groups. “HB 833 represents an important step forward for home energy efficiency, and I intend to bring the issue up again in 2011.”

Looking ahead, Surovell stated, “I appreciate the work the VALCV does in preserving and enhancing quality of life for all Virginians. I look forward to working alongside them as we defend Virginia’s natural beauty.” Surovell recently organized a community cleanup of Quander Brook, along U.S. 1 in Alexandria, removing truckloads of trash and debris from the stream. “Whether at the community level, or in Richmond, I am committed to conserving and protecting Virginia’s environment,” said Surovell. “Green technology and energy efficiency is the future and I look forward to working with the Virginia business community making Virginia the leader of green industries.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Snakeheads in Mt. Vernon

One area that State Government does a lot of unseen work in Northern Virginia is on the Potomac River. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is responsible for Virginia's share of the Potomac River and regulating hunting and fishing. There is plenty of duck hunting and fishing that takes place along my delegate district's boundary along the Potomac River.

DGIF is still studying the invasion of the Northern Snakehead into the Potomac River and its effect on our ecology. The Northern Snakehead is a non-native invasive species from China. No one is really sure how they got here. Here is DGIF's FAQ page which has some good information.

Things really took off after an old Stephen Foster classmate of mine, Derek Radoski, and Steve Chaconas, caught a couple hundred Snakeheads in Dogue Creek in a net one day. That was when everyone figured out that this fish was here to stay.

This invasive species affects creeks all up and down the 44th's boundary on the Potomac River. Some people worry that the Snakehead's voracious appetite may affect populations of other fish species. That is one big reason why DGIF's work is important.

Here is a short video describing those efforts as they do some work in Dogue Creek in the 44th.





Make sure if you run into some DGIF guys in your local Mount Vernon Creek you thank them for their hard work on this.

While we are still trying to ascertain how these will affect the overall ecology and fish populations, Derek and Steve, have turned guided Snakehead fishing tours into a local business. The Washington Post wrote up a long story on them a couple years ago including a video you can watch here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Newsweek Says Mt. Vernon & West Potomac High Schools Top 6% in USA

Last week, I attended the graduations of the two high schools in my delegate seat - Mount Vernon High School and West Potomac High School.

Recent news articles have focused on how these two schools have some of the steepest challenges in the County due to the economic demographics in our part of Fairfax County. According to the 2000 Census, my delegate seat's median income was $7,500 per year lower than any other delegate district in Fairfax County. It was even almost $60,000 per year lower than the 34th in Great Falls.

Families with lower incomes have less time to assist children with homework and focus on learning. When I was knocking doors in Hybla Valley, Woodlawn, and Huntington, I could see this first hand when parents were still out working at 8 p.m. or even 9 p.m. as I was wrapping up.

Last week, Newsweek Magazine released its annual survey of the best high schools in the United States featuring the top 6% of all high schools in the country. It included the following:


These rankings are based on Newsweek's Challenge Index that looks at how hard the faculty and administration challenges students with number of Adavanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. And in case you are asking - yes there were schools in Fairfax County that did not make the list.

Our community should be proud of these accomplishments. These results show that our faculty and children and taking some of the most challenging courses in the United States and competing. Mount Vernon's schools are places that students can be challenged if they want to be. Our schools should be proud of their accomplishments.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mandating Autism Coverage

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story that New York was very close to becoming the 23rd state in the country to require insurance companies to cover autism treatments. I have several friends who face $50,000+ in annual medical bills paying for therapy for their children.

Last week, I attended two separate forums on Virginia's exploding autism population, the lack of infrastructure to support it, and talking about ways to help families cope. Requiring Virginia insurers has become a perrenial fight in the General Assembly. Here is a WAMU story about this past session's efforts.

One of the big arguments against this idea is that if other states do not mandate coverage, it puts Virginia insurers and eventually companies at a competitive disadvantage with other states because their rates and costs are higher due to this additional coverage. Given that most states seem to be moving towards covering autism, this argument does not carry as much weight as it formerly did.

The purpose of health insurance is to help spread the risk and cost of ailments across broader populations so that the burden of medical expenses does not fall entirely upon individual families. Autism is not a matter of choice. I am hopeful that was can get this legislation moving and join the rest of the country instead of being the last one to act.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The West Potomac Class of 2010

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the 24th graduation ceremony of my alma mater, West Potomac High School at the Patriot Center - the seventh one I have been able to attend.

It was kind of surreal to march near the head of the line after having played Pomp and Circumstance three times before in the Patriot Center as a student from 1985-1988 in the West Potomac Band.

After we got up on stage, and the rows started to fill in, I looked out and saw my old friend who played in a WePo brass quintet with me - Ben Nowak - who is now teaching Science. He was about five rows back on beach ball patrol at the end of his row. Assistant Principal Dale Eaton was working logistics, and I even saw my old 11th Grade English teacher Paul Russell sneaking around with no gown - doing his own thing true to form 20 years later.

I snapped this picture at the right while up on stage as the graduates were filtering in. the student speakers Christina Son talked about the embarassment of wrecking her dad's car (been there, done that), and while Madeline Dahl talked abstracted life to her classes. Class President Camilla Sanchez talked about being the first in her family to graduate high school, and Principal Cliff Hardison reeled off some impressive stats - $3.5 million of scholarships, 29,000 community service hours, 80% college bound.

West Potomac High School is pumping out some impressive graduates. Just last week, West Potomac was ranked the 523rd toughest high school in the United States by Newsweek Magazine based on the number of AP/IB tests given at the school divided by the number of graduates. That puts West Potomac High School in the top 1.9% in the United States.

I snapped this picture at the right just as they were declaring the students graduates. If you haven't attended a high school graduation in a while you should. The optimism, energy, and enthusiasm permeates the rooms at these events is contagious and really reminds you why we need to fight as hard as we can to ensure we get our fair share of resources so that these kids get the best preparation as possible for their next steps in life. I look forward to continue the fight.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mt. Vernon High School Class of 2010

Today was the really fun part of being a Delegate. I got to shake the hands of several hundred very happy Mount Vernon High School graduates as they walked across the stage ready to move on in life.

The Student Body President, Tracy King, gave a great speech followed up with a big hug from her mother, Mt. Vernon High School Principal Nardos King, when she walked across the stage.

The dual Honor Graduate Speakers, Natalya Dyhouse & Andrew McKellips also gave terrific talks about following your dreams, including a reference to Yoda's timeless advice - "Do or not do . . . there is no try." My kind of speech.





The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, gave the keynote address and talked about her New Orleans roots and the challenges of the recent spill at the Deepwater Horizon. She extolled the graduates to focus on serving others.

Plus, I got to sit next to Mike Skinner who was attending his 52nd graduation, was Mt. Vernon Basketball Coach when my father graduated in 1962, and is who they named the Field House after.

It was a great day.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Microchips, Tobacco, Coal & the New Dominion

Today, I took a tour with fellow freshman Delegate Torian of Northern Virginia's biggest microchip manfucturing plant in Manassas owned by Micron. It was a fascinating experience.

My first thought was why did IBM locate this here? It turns out that IBM located this facility here in the 1970s because of a couple important things: (1) Manassas' brand new public water system (infrastructure), (2) an educated workforce, (3) proximity to an airport (infrastructure), and (4) proximity to three large power lines (infrastructure). Three things that the Commonwealth has been completely neglecting for the last two decades.

The processes were fascinating. Although 1,600 people work in the facility, the semiconductor manufacturing process is nearly entirely automated and done by robots. Little carts full of semiconductors whirled around the ceiling and dropped in and out of dozens of manufacturing devices that cost $50 million each and are frequently replaced. I would have loved to take pictures, but we were not allowed.

Most of the employees are technicians and engineers. A high school diploma is not enough - an associates degree is a bare minimum requirement.

They pointed out to me that this facility has $3 billion of capital invested in it. Their company has over 1,700 patents and has also been rated to have some extremely high quality patents. They also recycle and reuse most of their water and have won several environmental stewardship awards from the Commonwealth.

We also talked about how several years ago microchips passed tobacco and coal as Virginia's top exports.

Coal and cigarettes, move over. There's a new leader among Virginia exports. It's the computer chip. Virginia chipmakers shipped $1.5 billion of the tiny, high-tech devices overseas last year, topping longtime heavyweights coal and cigarettes, according to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Chip exports were almost twice those of coal, at $882.9 million, and triple those of cigarettes, at $510.8 million, reported the state authority charged with increasing the commonwealth's economy. Computer Chips Now Lead Virginia Exports, Virginian-Pilot (Feb. 24, 2007).

These wafers end up in computers, flash drives, cell phone cameras, cell phones, cars, appliances, everything.

While the Northern Virginia Technology Community is one of the fastest growing business segments in Northern Virginia, this facility is especially unique. Years ago, I learned that all technology businesses are not created equal. Businesses that create patents are especially valuable to a community because the intellectual capital they create through research and development catalyzes investments in universities, turbocharges job growth, and creates all kind of spin-off effects (all of which Micron does). This is why Silcon Valley's technology community's growth has been so much more explosive than Northern Virginia's.

These kinds of assets are extremely valuable. We need more of these kinds of jobs and we need more of them close to Mount Vernon. To get these high quality jobs in our community, we need to invest in our infrastructure.

The funny thing is that when it came time to leave, they took our picture in front of their Welcome Sign - it was decidedly NOT high tech!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

U.S. 1 History: Remembering Beacon Field


This past General Assembly session, I was able to convince over 30 Democratic and Republican legislators to ask Governor McDonnell to designate all of U.S. 1 as "Historic Route 1." This kind of historic asset is exactly what makes Route 1 a unique asset in our community and marketing these kinds of sites along with Mount Vernon, Woodlawn Mansion and the Dogue Creek Distillery, Gunston Hall and Huntley Manor, the Outer Washington Civil War Defenses (in Belle Haven & Huntington) all create the possibility of more attention, commerce, and better quality development and jobs on U.S. 1.

When my grandparents first moved to Mount Vernon in 1941, there were two airports on U.S. 1- Hybla Valley Airport and Beacon Field.

Hybla Valley Airport was located between Lockheed Boulevard and Mount Vernon Plaza in Hybla Valley. When I was a kid, I walked on the runaways in the fields where South Meadows Condominiums now stand.

Beacon Field was located at the present site of Beacon Mall across the street from the inspiration for this blog - The Dixie Pig! One of my constituents, Harry Lehman, has done a terrific job with his website dedicated to Beacon Field. It is loaded with photgraphs, maps, and stories regarding the old airport on the hill formerly known as "City View."


If you have a minute, you should really take a look. It is fascinating stuff for anyone who has a love of our community and U.S. 1.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Improving Medicaid Coverage Would Mean More Insured Virginians

Virginia's Medicaid system covers certain low-income, disabled, elderly, and young people. Medicaid in Virginia system is one of the stingiest in the United States - 47 states allow people with higher incomes to participate (in Virginia you have to be extremely poor). The cost of Medicaid is shared by the federal and state governments.

The Kaiser Foundation on Medicaid and the Uninsured has released an analysis of the potential effect of federal healthcare reform on the states' Medicaid populations. The report assumes two scenarios: One uses state participation rates assuming moderate levels of participation. The other other assumes enhanced participation by states. Virginia currently has extremely low coverage levels (48th in the United States). What was their conclusion?

The changes to the Medicaid program under the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act (PPACA) significantly expand Medicaid coverage for adults. There will be large increases in coverage and federal funding in exchange for a small increase in state spending. States with low coverage levels and high uninsured rates will see the largest increases in coverage and federal funding. Higher levels of coverage will allow states to reduce payments they make to support uncompensated care costs.

(Uncompensated care usually refers to care given to people who have no insurance coverage and no way to pay for their care).

The study predicts "state spending could increase by $43 billion while federal spending could increase by $532 billion." This is because the federal government will contribute more for new enrollees than it currently does to present enrollees.

The study also predicts Virginia could see a 50% reduction in the number of uninsured adults at 133% of the federal poverty level or 245,000 more people covered under the "standard" scenario assumptions. The "enhanced" scenario predicts a 75% reduction in uninsured or 365,000 more people covered. Under federal poverty guidelines, a person with an income of $10,830 is considered to be "poor."

Our state presently ranks last in the United States in federal grants due to our limited programs to help low-income people and we ranked 49th in average per capital aid to state and local governments. If you have private insurance, you pay for the uninsured every day so the more people who have health insurance, the better off everyone is.

The bottom line: Given that the federal government will be picking up a large amount of the cost of this, Virginia should be looking very closely at enhancing our Medicaid coverage.

The executive summary is posted below if you would like to read it (it is not light reading material). The full report can be accessed here.

Medicaid Coverage and Spending in Health Reform: National and State-by-State Results for Adults at or Below...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Time to Consider Climate Change & Sea Level Rise in Mt. Vernon

The 44th District is one of three delegate seats in Fairfax County that has tidal wetlands. As the Deepwater Horizon spill is demonstrating, these important buffer zones serve important functions in stabilizing our ecology.

While we do not have barrier islands on the Potomac River, our tidal wetlands provide crucial habitat for all kinds of migratory bird species and breeding ground for acquatic life. They also provide a buffer between the River and the flood plain helping to absorb floods.

A few months ago, Fairfax County's Environmental Committee presented a projection to the Board of Supervisors regarding the areas of the County vulnerable to a five foot sea level rise. These included many portions of my district and significant acreage just north of my district that contains dwellings in New Alexandria. It also anticipates tidal wetlands being converted into open water. It also recommended that sea level rise considerations be incorporated into land use planning and future comprehensive plan drafts.

These are even reasons that climate change will have real impact right here in Mount Vernon. Some of these recommendations merit further discusson. Post up your comments.
Fairfax County Mt. Vernon Climate Change Presentation

New Eisenhower Ramp Opens on Beltway This Weekend!

For anyone who commutes on the Capitol Beltway from Mount Vernon to the west every day (like me), this is welcome news. This should take care of the majority of the backup from the Inner Loop Beltway onto Telegraph Road every morning. No more dodging cars.

New Ramp to Open at Telegraph Road Interchange Ramp to Provide Direct Access from Telegraph Road to Eisenhower Avenue

By early Saturday morning, June 12, a new ramp from Telegraph Road North and over the Capital Beltway to Eisenhower Avenue will open. This never before available direct access not only improves flow on Telegraph Road, but also eliminates a long standing and inconvenient weave-merge at Telegraph Road and Pershing
Avenue. Minimal impact to motorists is expected during the traffic changeover but the change will require drivers to become accustomed to a new configuration.

"Opening this new ramp is a major milestone in the completion of the Telegraph Road interchange," says John Lynch, VDOT Woodrow Wilson Bridge project manager and regional transportation program director. "The addition of this ramp will provide a much-needed traffic outlet along this busy Beltway corridor, and allow previously unavailable direct access to Eisenhower Avenue."

Earlier this year, the ramp from the Outer Loop to Telegraph Road North was demolished, and a temporary detour route was created for Outer Loop traffic exiting to Telegraph Road North. Temporary traffic signals at Telegraph Road control the detoured traffic. Travelers bound for the Eisenhower Valley proceeded north of the Beltway to a temporary signal at Pershing Avenue.

With the opening of the new ramp, the right turn from Telegraph Road North and temporary signal at Pershing Avenue will be permanently eliminated. Telegraph Road North motorists will now access the Eisenhower Valley much earlier: south of the Beltway immediately after crossing the Cameron Run bridge.

Additional changes to conditions to which drivers are currently familiar include:

Outer Loop traffic will continue to use the temporary exit to Telegraph Road North, and then will be able to continue straight toward Duke Street or turn right onto the new ramp to Eisenhower Avenue. But, Outer Loop traffic needing to access the Eisenhower Valley must use the right lane of the detour route so that they can immediately turn right onto the new ramp.

Inner Loop traffic to Telegraph Road North will continue to use the temporary exit via the ramp from the Inner Loop to Pershing Avenue, but can freely flow onto Telegraph Road North without a traffic signal.

A temporary connection connects Telegraph Road North to the new ramp. It will be in use until the Telegraph Road bridge over Cameron Run is reconstructed. This new bridge will be wider and slightly higher to accommodate a new sidewalk leading to the bike and pedestrian path on the new ramp, scheduled to open in 2011.

To review the improvements to the Telegraph Road interchange, and for details and visuals of the traffic configurations for the 2010 construction season, visit the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project website at www.wilsonbridge.com.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Progresso Hispano: Training Our Newest Citizens

Last week I was asked to address a graduation ceremony for a citizenship class at Progresso Hispano on U.S. 1. Progresso is one of the four big charities on U.S. 1 that meets the needs of one of the more under-served communities in our area.

The Hispanic population in the U.S. 1 cooridor has been exploding over the last decade. This has created many new challenges in our area.

It was a terrific ceremony and I was honored to address these candidates for citizenship. As you can see from the picture everyone was very excited about becoming Americans very soon.

Many people take basic community knowledge for granted - e.g. that you need to register a child for school, where to appeal a parking ticket, the difference between the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County. Integrating these new residents into our community and our community institutions requires outreach, training, and immersion in the community. That is exactly what Progresso is doing.

Budget Cuts, A $3 Fee, and 28% Less Prosecutions in Fairfax County

During my campaign, I proposed that the state help fund a new system in Fairfax County that would streamline the issuance of criminal citations. Fairfax County processes over 280,000 traffic and criminal citations per year. Most of these citations are issued by officers in the field who write them up by hand. They were then data entered by 10 employees of the Fairfax County Police (even though this is really part of the state's responsibility as operation of the Court system (but that is underfunded also)).

However, many states have gone to electronic ticketing systems. This requires annual software expenses and printers. The software vendor licensing fees are partly a function of the number of tickets written. Plus, bar code reads speed the data entry process because you can simply want the driver's license information with one click.

My law partner, Senator Chap Petersen, and I both introduced legislation (here and here) that would have allowed Fairfax County to charge a $3 per ticket fee to help cover the costs of this system so that convicted defendants would help cover the cost of the system made necessary by their behavior.

I presented the bill with the Clerk of the Fairfax County General District Court. No one spoke against it. It was killed on a party-line vote with no explanation. After I agreed to some modifications, I secured the support of Fairfax County Delegate and House Courts Chairman Dave Albo and it was voted on again and killed again on a party line vote (Delegate Albo is not on the subcommittee that killed it). Senator Petersen's bill cleared the Senate 31-9 and was killed in the House a couple weeks later. Several colleagues told me later that many legislators might view a $3 traffic ticket fees as a tax increase.

At the beginning of the year, the Fairfax County Police Department implemented the software system and partly funded it by reassigning the ten employees doing data entry (resources are also limited due to the County's budget cuts), but they did not purchase the bar code readers or printers. What's the result?

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Fairfax County Police implemented the system without bar code readers and printers. Because of this, the Fairfax County Police have issued 28% fewer tickets since January 1. DWI tickets are down 24%.

The reason is simple. Those of us who practice in the courthouse have heard all the stories from the police officers on the street. The time it takes to manually type in a ticket, plus write it out by hand, has vastly increased the amount of time it takes to write a ticket. Cops have been turned into data clerks on the side of the road.

Since then, I have been lobbying the Board of Supervisors to simply appropriate the money to purchase bar code readers and printers. Hopefully, someone will be able to find the money. I also asked my bill to be considered as part of the Governor's Commission on Government Reform.

If no one acts, welcome to one more consequence of the state refusing to meet one of its basic responsibilities like law enforcement - more criminals free to break the law.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Voting Record for 2010 Session

The Clerk of the House of Delegates records all of our votes on an electronic voting system called Legis.

All of this data is fairly easy to reformat and present, but under our current rules it is only displayed on a bill by bill basis online. While it is easy to see votes on specific bills, it is difficult to see each delegate's entire voting history.

There is one site put together by Waldo Jaquith, Richmond Sunlight, that provides some analytical tools. For example, you can see my voting record for that site here.

Because of his Delegate Jim LeMunyon introduced a rule change to require the Clerk of the House to publish our voting histories online. All 20 freshman, Democrats and Republicans, cosponsored the bill, but it did not make it out of the House it passed the House, but was killed in Senate Committee [thanks to Del. LeMunyon for that correction!].

The Clerk gave each of us our voting history last week. I am committed to making my record as available as possible to anyone who wants it. My voting record is published below.


2010 Surovell Complete Voting Record

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Assessing Status: 1st Meeting of Preschool Working Group

Tonight, I met with several folks interested in improving access to preschool education in the U.S. 1 Corridor at the Mount Vernon Government Center. I discussed this initiative on my blog and during my campaign:


The Mount Vernon Community is divided into two communities in many ways. East of U.S. 1 along the Potomac River there are approximately 14 preschools. West of U.S. 1, there are virtually none. Schools that draw diverse student populations from west of U.S. 1 have significant challenges with testing scores bearing out challenges for students from families with lower incomes (Mt. Vernon Gazette, Test Scores: It's Complicated (May 27, 2010)).

One of the biggest problems is a shortage of money. There is more demand for Head Start and subsidized childcare than there are slots. The state budget is severely restricted. Local budgets are very tight due to the recession and limited revenue sources. Full funding could go a long way toward mitigating these problems.


Our group also identified the following problems with access and utilization of preschool, quality childcare and/or early childhood education in the corridor:
  • Affordability for Low-Income Families
  • Cultural Barriers
  • Language Barriers
  • Affordable Transportation Options
  • Lack of Affordable Space for Operations
  • Lack of Affordable Options or Subsidized Slots in Existing Programs
  • Lack of Convenient Options (Both in terms of locations and hours of operation)
  • Lack of Effective Parent Mentoring Programs
  • Lack of Federal, State and Local Funding for Head Start, Early Childhood Education, and Quality Childcare Programs.

We also identified the following areas to focus on in moving forward:

  • Identifying obstacles and strategies to achieve full federal Head Start funding
  • Determining the long-term status of the old Mt. Vernon High School property and initiating discussions regarding use of the property for pre-K education
  • Investigating the feasibility of tax credits for commercial property owners in areas underserved by low-rent facilities such as churches
  • Investigating feasibility of government-supported transportation options for childcare
  • Reviewing ways to stop proposed state rules to limit state support of subsidized childcare to five years per family.
  • Investigating licensed daycare provider rules to ascertain feasibility of setting standards for quality of time children spend in childcare and not just safety metrics.
  • Investigating feasibility of developing model curriculum and/or grant programs for parent mentoring.

If you have any ideas about any of these programs as we continue this discussion and look toward solutions, please feel free to post your comments here or email them to my aide, Chris Bea, at DelSSurovell@virginia.house.gov. Also, please contact us if you would like to attend our meetings and participate in the discussions.

Time to Invest in Preschool

This is a column I wrote that appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette on May 20, 2010. If you are interested in participating in this working group, please contact my aide Chris Bea at DelSSurovell@house.virginia.gov.

When the state got into funding secondary education about 90 years ago, it was supposed to be an equal partner. That is not the case today in Northern Virginia and this needs to change. I strongly believe that one of the best ways the state could help us here in Mount Vernon is to invest in preschool education.

Educators widely recognize that early childhood education gives children strong fundamentals for succeeding in school and that children who do not have these programs start kindergarten at a disadvantage. There is not a single preschool on the west side of U.S. 1 in the 44th Delegate District. There are 14 preschools on the east side including the preschool my grandparents helped found in 1941 — Tauxemont Preschool.

Children who attend preschool have a huge advantage over children who do not. We have too many children in Mount Vernon who show up for kindergarten who have never sat in circle, focused on a task or learned how to hold a pencil. Just last week a study was published confirmed that children who lack quality daycare before age four-and-a-half start off behind, frequently stay behind, and are at-risk for all kinds of problems in adolescence and as adults.

Notwithstanding all of this research, one day during the session when we were debating this year’s state budget, two budget negotiators from downstate argued that Fairfax County was a wealthy place that did not have a significant need for state education funding and argued against funding for at-risk children’s programs because they maintained, these programs are not effective. Likewise, the original House Budget made massive cuts to funding for at-risk children's education programs and rolled all programs into one block grant so that localities would have the discretion to make funding decisions on their own.

I took to the floor of the House and argued that if we took every free and reduced lunch child in Fairfax County and put them into their own school district, it would be the eighth largest school system in Virginia out of approximately 120. Our special education population would be 12th and our English-as-a-Second-Language population would be 14th. We have plenty of many compelling needs in Fairfax County and especially right here in Mount Vernon. Also, I pointed out that while sending a block grant might provide "flexibility" to localities, many of us had concerns about how resources were allocated within our counties when "flexibility" was exercised and that we preferred that funds be allocated for specific programs. When it is time for the School Board to vote, we only have two votes out of 12 (Mount Vernon and Lee Districts).

What is happening in Fairfax County today is precisely demonstrating my point. Both sides of the U. S. 1 corridor have some of the steepest education challenges and the greatest needs in the County yet we are seeing major cuts. Parents across Mount Vernon have been contacting me about cuts to Project Excel, elementary school focus funding, and new fees. This is not sustainable. Long-term we have to invest in our children, in programs for at-risk kids, and have preschool programs available for everyone.

I am assembling a working group to make legislative recommendations regarding how the state can encourage the expansion of opportunities for communities that are not currently well-served by preschools. If you would like to participate in this working group, please email my aide, Christopher Bea, at DelSSurovell@house.virginia.gov or call my office at 571.249.44TH (4484).
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