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Archive for August, 2009

Delaware’s Department of Education released a series of statistics the other day about the state’s Advanced Placement (AP) and SAT participation rate. The AP program — in case some are unfamiliar with the process — gives high school students a chances to take classes which, depending on the result of a final standardized exam, can earn them college credit. The classes are generally considered more rigorous and involve material that would otherwise be offered at the freshman-in-college level of education.

I won’t attempt to recreate all of the many statistics in the release. I do, however, find some issue with the way the findings are reported.

None of the SAT statistics listed in the release seem to carry any relevance at all (SAT scores are purposely based around 500 as the mean score—neither Delaware nor the nation should ever deviate greatly from that mean, and they don’t), except perhaps the 8th in the nation for SAT participation rate. Even this statistic, though, likely overstates the importance of the ranking. Given that a number of states have very low SAT participation rates due to ACT competition, the significance of being ranked 8th is impossible to determine. A better ranking would perhaps include a combined ACT and SAT participation rate, rather than focus on either test individually. As it stands, I am not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed with our arbitrary ranking.

As for our AP score increases, Delaware reportedly outpaced the nation in its increase of 3s or higher on AP exams from 2009 — 11.9% to 9.4% nationally. The statistics given are difficult to base much on without elaboration (does the national average include private/parochial schools or not, since the Delaware statistic does not), but on its face, this is at least some good news in education when Delaware has received rather poor rankings elsewhere. I am hesitant to ascribe too much importance to AP score results, however, since they do not necessarily reflect the education system at large. It’s not bad news, at least, especially for those students who are actually receiving the college credit they have earned.

I give credit to Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery for doing a commendable job in recognizing that these findings do little to rectify the poor educational state in Delaware:

“While the AP results show we are making progress, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done so that our students are prepared for postsecondary education.  We cannot make the excuse that our students are following the national trends in SAT results.  As educators we need to do better because our students expect us to, and they deserve better.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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“The Delaware Department of Justice has read the online Caesar Rodney Institute Report. The allegations discussed in the report fall into four general categories – medical care, brutality, training, and management. Medical care is monitored by a distinguished retired judge reporting to the United States Department of Justice. Two specific brutality complaints are raised, one of which is being investigated by State authorities, and the other of which was being investigated by the United States Department of Justice. Credible allegations of excessive use of force are taken seriously and investigated. When prosecutable cases exist, they have been and will continue to be prosecuted. Issues concerning training and management generally fall within the purview of the responsible officials in the Executive Branch of State Government.”

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In a Delaware State News article from 2005, then-Treasurer Jack Markell expressed outrage over substandard health care and other problems with the prison’s medical vendor, Correctional Medical Services:

“These deaths are tragic. Letting a contract stand that may have contributed to them without a detailed investigation would be a tragedy as well,” Markell told the Delaware State News four years ago. “The state is spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a contract that does not, at face, appear to be delivering on its promises. … This is not just a dollars-and-cents issue, it’s a life-and-death issue.”

Three days ago, the Caesar Rodney Institute launched its Special Report, “Rogue Force,” detailing inadequacies shockingly similar to the ones found in 2005.

Immediately following its release, neither the Governor nor Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg responded to the allegations.

The next day, Kate Bailey, spokeswoman for Carl Danberg, attacked the messenger rather than respond to the message.

“The department does not view this report as the product of an independent unbiased or balanced investigation and will not be treating or responding to it as such,” Bailey told WDEL’s Rick Jensen.

The report nevertheless garnered the attention of the Delaware Senate, prompting calls by Delaware Sens. Colin Bonini and Bruce Ennis for an investigation into the allegations raised in “Rogue Force.”

This morning, Bailey changed her response yet again, telling the Delaware State News “We take allegations of abuse seriously and regularly investigate them.” The DOC reported that “an internal investigation is already underway.”

Previous internal investigations by the DOC have resulted in little more than the review of corrections officers’ reports without interviewing prisoners or reviewing medical records.

Senator Ennis, however, agreed to delay the pursuit of legislative action pending review of the Department’s findings.

We are awaiting the results of the DOC’s internal probe.

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Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, who chairs the Senate’s Adult and Juvenile Corrections Committee, announced Tuesday he will hold joint hearings with the House Correction Committee into allegations of abuse and shoddy medical care in Delaware prisons.

His decision, Ennis said, was based on problems revealed by the Caesar Rodney Institute’s special investigative report “Rogue Force.”

“The allegations are disturbing, and certainly demand some type of investigation,” Ennis said. “The majority of correction officers are dedicated hard working people, who work in a stressful environment, but these allegations certainly need to be investigated.”

CRI’s ongoing series reveals how guards at the Sussex Correctional Institution are physically abusing inmates in their care.

The report shows how Delaware is breaking an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, in which the Department of Correction promised to improve its shoddy medical care, which federal investigators determined was violating the civil rights of the 6,900 inmates in state custody.

The special report examines physical abuse by guards at the Sussex Correctional Institution and its consequences. It tells David Sully’s story, who says guards at SCI beat him nearly to death. The series also tells the story of inmate Benjamin Sudler, who had both legs amputated due to diabetes that went untreated. This series reveals how the state’s well-compensated prison monitor is doing little to fix the problems.

The hearings will be held in Legislative Hall. Ennis wants the hearings held in September or October.

His announcement came after Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South, called for a special prosecutor, the empanelling of an investigative grand jury, investigations, audits and new legislation as a result of the findings presented in “Rogue Force.”

Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or lee@caesarrodney.org

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A look at how government spending hurts the economy from the CATO Institute.

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In a letter to all state officials, Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South, calls for a special prosecutor, the empaneling of an investigative grand jury, new legislation and investigations into the problems revealed in “Rogue Force.”

This letter can be viewed on the Special Reports page.

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Lee Williams will be appearing on the Rick Jensen show today at 2 p.m. to discuss his report, “Rogue Force,” which details instances of inmate abuse at the Sussex Correctional Institution. Tune into 1150 a.m. or wdel.com to listen to the show. You can view “Rogue Force” here.

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The Caesar Rodney Institute has released “Rogue Force,” a special investigative report that reveals how guards at the Sussex Correctional Institution are physically abusing inmates in their care.

Laurel businessman David Sully was beaten by guards at the Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) in June. Sully’s facial wounds required nearly a dozen stitches to close.

The eight stories in the series reveal how Delaware is breaking an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, in which the Department of Correction (DOC) promised to improve its shoddy medical care, which federal investigators determined was violating the civil rights of the 6,900 inmates in state custody.

CRI investigative reporter Lee Williams wrote the special report.

The special report examines physical abuse by guards at SCI and its consequences. It tells David Sully’s story and that of inmate Benjamin Sudler, who had both legs amputated due to inadequate medical care. This series also reveals how the state’s well-compensated prison monitor is doing little to fix the problems.

The series suggests solutions to the problems within the DOC and includes more than 30 questions that Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg refused to answer.

We will continue to publish follow-up stories on the Institute’s Web site. The Caesar Rodney Institute is committed to reporting about the problems revealed in “Rogue Force” until the state makes substantive changes to its prison system.

Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or lee@caesarrodney.org.

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Just clunkers

Though more clearly a national issue than a specifically Delaware one, I think that commenting on the floundering Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS)/Cash for Clunkers system is now an appropriate action to take, in large measure due to the program’s demonstrated failures.

As the NY Times reports, the CARS program will end this coming Monday, giving dealers and consumers only a few more days to take advantage of this modern-day Agriculture Adjustment Act. Fellow-poster Garrett has previously commented on the original difficulty the program faced—a lack of funding one short week after it began, which resulted in tripling the initial funding. While I disagree to some extent with his initial analysis (I, personally at least, do not think that the elimination of functioning capital is outweighed by minor environmental concerns or by claiming stimulus—especially when such goals could be addressed alternatively, but that is not the point here), I think his original point bears repeating: the CARS program has been grossly mismanaged, offering another example of government inefficiency.

As I am sure anyone who has been following the news is aware, few dealers have received the promised reimbursement from the government, leading GM to (inexplicably) offer a cash advance to dealers to continue their enrollment in the program. Others have simply dropped out of the program.

Perhaps most troubling is the President’s response to the problems faced with regard to the CARS program:

“And we’re now slightly victims of success because the thing happened so quick, there was so much more demand than anybody expected, that dealers were overwhelmed with applications.”

Making excuses — especially ones that blame failure on success or pass the responsibility onto “overwhelmed” dealers — is disingenuous. Perhaps there was much more demand than anybody expected, but the administration seemed to have no plan for such a possibility. Granted, the rousing success (I hesitate to call it such) of the program could have been beyond the realm of predictability, but my instinct is that this was hardly the case. More likely, in my opinion, is that there was too little planning and/research done prior to launch, resulting in a pathetically botched reimbursement system.

I do not intend to equate this program wholly with healthcare, since I recognize the two are substantively very different and one’s success does not predict directly another’s. I do not think it is unfair, nevertheless, to bring up the question of the government’s capacity to predict and manage a complex national system involving various satellites (here, the dealerships) seeking federal funds for their services. The CARS program is not unique, merely currently popular. Innumerable other governmental failures could illustrate the same problem: there is a poor incentive structure and a lack of planning on the government’s part. This isn’t an easily dismissable concern, and I graciously welcome anyone who wishes to address it to do so.

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After the tax hikes that came out of New Castle County a few weeks ago, it’s promising to see their recently released report of a smaller-than-previously-projected budget deficit for FY2010. To be fair, it’s hardly the best possible news (after all, there is still a $7 million budget deficit unaddressed) for the county, but it’s certainly better than one would expect.

The decrease in the budget deficit comes as a combination of increased taxes and decreased spending. The press release by the county lists (in an annoying block paragraph form, for whatever reason) some of their cost-saving measures, including hiring freezes, refinancing of debt, and various favorable contract changes for utilities and services. The county also mentions talks about reforming some of its union contracts, as well.

Putting aside the tax increases that came earlier this summer, this is great news. A cursory glance at the FY2010 budget overview reveals spending cuts from the previous year in nearly every category highlighted, with exceptions for the Register in Chancery and the Debt Service. New Castle County’s experience demonstrates well how cost-cutting measures can close the gap on an otherwise outrageous budget deficit. There are still problems that require fixing, of course, but it would be wrong not to give some praise to NCCo for taking any measures toward reducing governmental expenditures.

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