Commentary, Local Commentary, National Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts

No one expected Donald Trump’s mug shot to be a well-lit and air-brushed eight-by-ten glossy, but his snarling visage imposed on the Fulton County Sheriff’s logo did a good job of highlighting, in one split-second photo, his oft-demonstrated disdain for governmental institutions.  I wondered how long he had practiced that grimace in front of a mirror, and then I remembered his “American Carnage” inaugural address in 2017.  Not much difference, except the West Front of the Capitol was replaced by the sheriff’s imprint as a backdrop.  

The photo instantly attained iconic status around the world, and quickly became the basis for more campaign fundraising by the indicted former president.  No shame, just more democracy-bashing, lies, and victimization – his own.  There’s sure to be more as the courts in Washington, D.C., New York, Florida, and Georgia jockey for first dibs at putting Mr. Trump on trial for the 91 charges against him.  It promises to be a long couple of years.  

While all of that is swirling around, local life goes on.  School is back in session, generating a lot of traffic in neighborhoods during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up.  Speed cameras are installed at a few schools across the county, including Sleepy Hollow Elementary in Mason District, but the speed limit for every school zone is 25 mph when the Wink-O-Matic lights are flashing.  In the City of Alexandria, I’ve seen signs for 15 mph in some school zones.  In any case, driving near schools requires extra care and attention, and plenty of patience.  Let’s make sure that everyone gets to their destination safely, every day.

The start of the school year also calls attention to the cost of educating a student, and the need for the Commonwealth of Virginia to step up and provide more funds for K-12 education to all school divisions in the state.  A recent Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report confirmed what local governments already know – the State Standards of Quality (SOQ) formula underfunds local school division spending, underestimates compensation costs, and does not adequately address higher needs students.  In Northern Virginia, local governments provide a greater percentage of funding than the state or federal governments, but about two-thirds of school divisions rely on the Commonwealth for most of their education funding.  According to the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo), which provided localities with an analysis of the JLARC study, the SOQ formula calculated that school divisions needed $10.7 billion in funding, but local school divisions actually spent $17.3 billion.  Even an elementary school student could do the math and find a $6.6 Billion shortfall!

The Commonwealth still is relying on funding decisions made during the Great Recession, which was more than a decade ago, and the Cost of Competing Adjustment in the SOQ formula is based on data from 1991.  Sufficient education funding increases student performance more than any other factor, according to the JLARC study, which can be accessed online at  

Despite all the recent hype, the presidential election isn’t until next year, but all 140 Virginia General Assembly seats are on the ballot this year.  The Commonwealth’s failure to fully fund its share of K-12 education funding would be a good question to ask of all candidates, and if they are not aware of the JLARC study, shame on them!

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at


  • Penny Gross

    Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at