Tuesday brought the introduction of one of my favorite topics that has been discussed so far…
So this week I have realized that there are some things that I probably should not talk about as far as my internship goes because there’s this thing called the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and you’ve got to watch what you say sometimes. Nothing major happened, so don’t freak out. I have yet to disgrace the college or my family name at this stage of the game in my internship. However, I may not be as descriptive in some of the items that I discuss. Except for the fact that I spoke in front of four senators! But, I’ll get to that in due time, it’s probably best to go about this chronologically.
On Monday, I got some really great advice from Dr. Lane about not worrying so much about the tension that I am feeling between the city and home because in all reality, everything does take time to get used to. I will be able to take what I have learned back home and bring a little bit of what I have learned from being at home to the capitol as well. With that in mind, I began my next assignment for Beau about the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and how it is funded. There is a large divide in transportation programs between the state and local government. However, there are also programs where the two bodies work cohesively together. For example, the Safety Service Patrol (SSP) is a program that initially began to provide assistance to disable motorists in Northern Virginia during rush hours, but it has expanded and is part of VDOT operations throughout the state. It is funded by private sector sponsorships but is operated by localities.
Tuesday brought the introduction of one of my favorite topics that has been discussed so far. I went to a conference call with Larry Land with the Education Steering Committee. This meeting consisted of the financial outlook for K–12 education in the state for 2016. During the discussion part of the meeting, we talked about how Virginia is a wealthy state; however, many of our rural and inner city sectors are definitely struggling to keep up with the progress of the rest of the state. Achievement gaps are continuing to divide Virginians. A superintendent survey showed that many Virginia schools have been experiencing reduced staff, increased class size, increased duties for staff and faculty, reduced program offerings, and reduced benefits. The Deputy Secretary of Education stated that we must pay close attention to SOL reform because being under high stakes pressure is not good for students, nor is SOL test accountability a proficient way to evaluate our teachers. The Preschool Initiative is also being brought up again with hopes of making an impact in Virginia Education.
I find that one of the most difficult parts of this type of discussion regarding funds and where they should go is extremely taxing for me. As a student from Southwest Virginia, I went into college with doubts about my abilities because I did not feel that I was prepared for the caliber of work that was expected of me. There are complex ways in which funding is divided, but in my high school, we were working on getting air conditioning more aggressively than we were concerned with updating our Chemistry Lab from 1960. That is my experience, so I was sure that what I had to say was current. However, inner city schools in Virginia struggle just as much as rural schools. Yes, the struggles are different, but still valid and should be recognized. In my opinion, it should not be a competition between rural and urban because in Virginia, we are a collection of both. Funding should go to our most vulnerable students. I am learning that it is extremely difficult for this to be accomplished in the political arena, but working to make sure that the best strategies are implemented is why VACo and other organizations like it exist. On Wednesday, I was able to discuss my research with a collection of the leaders of the state, and it was an amazing experience to be able to share my opinions and listen to theirs.
Also on Wednesday, I attended the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) Cybersecurity Advisory Committee. This meeting was in the General Assembly Building. I went through some pretty high level security (I got my small package of trail mix taken away, the governor will know about this injustice). This was a huge meeting with attendees representing Verizon, T–Mobile, UVA, VT, Radford, JMU, Mary Washington, and a host of other institutions, corporations, and government offices. Needless to say, when we went around the room introducing ourselves I was a little nervous and ended up saying, “My name is Katherine Elizabeth Bordwine, and I’m the VACo intern” while holding up the peace sign with my hand. Luckily, everyone laughed with me instead of at me. I’m holding on to the hope that that was the situation, anyway. This meeting basically was to show the members present how Cybersecurity is being marketed by other states and how we should be working on our own Cybersecurity programs. It was mentioned that Virginia is in the best place to become the leading state in Cybersecurity. Most of the companies and industries dealing in Cybersecurity are on the Virginia side of the nation’s capital, so it just comes down to getting the proper support from legislators.
Thursday, I began research on the Virginia Public Procurement Act (VPPA). This act provides guidance regarding public policies pertaining to governmental procurement from nongovernmental sources to include governmental procurement that may or may not result in monetary consideration for either party. Know what that means? I definitely didn’t before I started the research. Essentially, the VPPA applies to acquiring goods, services, construction, and insurance from companies to Virginia’s localities. It exists so that public bodies can obtain high–quality goods for reasonable cost so that procurement is administered in a fair and impartial way and that qualified businesses have access to the public.
This morning on Friday, I turned in my VPPA research and went to a conference call with Erik and Larry. This was a joint committee meeting between the Economic & Development Planning Committee and the Education Steering Committee. This quickly became one of the most insightful meetings I have had at VACo thus far. The Education Committee talked about the meeting that we had on Tuesday, and the Economic Development & Planning Committee talked about discussing issues of workforce development; K–12 issues; and broadband, and their impact on school systems. It became imminently clear that both of these committees, although operating differently, were concerned with the same thing. They talked about broadband being a necessary tool for all of our students and lack thereof leading to our problems with an unskilled workforce. On the phone call, there were many members from different counties across the state represented with all variations of accents and cadences, but they were all on the same page. In all honesty, counties in Virginia do not usually get along that easily. However, today it was not about partisan politics or who represents which county; it was about seeing a problem and working together to fix it. To me, that is what is so beautiful about the work that I am doing here.