Lifeline to Larry? Will Congress save Sabato's program?

news-perriellosabatowarnerCongressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy, left) declined a request for federal funds for Larry Sabato's Youth Leadership Initiative. Now Senator Mark Warner (D-VA, right) is lobbying his colleagues to save it.

Few political scientists are as tapped into the ways of Washington as the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato. For his encyclopedic knowledge and predictive acumen, he has be come the go-to-guy for the national media seeking political analysis. Now, after decades spent watching Capitol Hill, Sabato needs an act of Congress to keep his brainchild alive.

"If we do not receive federal funds," says Ken Stroupe, chief of staff of Sabato's UVA Center for Politics, "we do not have a sufficient endowment to continue to operate this program."

The program is the Youth Leadership Initiative, a national civics education program founded by Sabato in 1998, providing free teaching tools to 50,000 social studies teachers of all grade levels nationwide. Every two years, the program runs mock elections with students voting on the same candidates their parents will on Election Day, making for what the Center for Politics says is the nation's largest mock election.

Since its inception, the Youth Initiative received most of its funding from a federal earmark introduced annually into the House of Representatives by Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Rocky Mount). After Goode's successor, Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy), declined to make the same appropriations request for Sabato's program as his predecessor, controversy erupted.

On June 19, Washington publication Politico published a story questioning the relationship between Sabato and Goode– which reportedly goes back to the days when Goode was a law student at UVA at the same time Sabato was an undergrad. Politico asked whether the money may have affected Sabato's analysis, which included a prediction that Goode would hold off Perriello's challenge in November. A few hours later, gossip blog Gawker repeated the allegation.

Sabato denied any such charge to Politico.

"I say what I think," said Sabato, "and if it costs us money, it costs us money."

Sabato declined to comment for this story.

Perriello spokesperson Jessica Barba dismisses the controversy as "inside-the-Beltway gossip-mongering" and says that the decision not to request funding for Sabato's program is not a reflection on what the freshman Congressman thinks of the professor or the merits of his organization. Rather, Barba says, it came down to choosing which projects were going to generate the most jobs for the Fifth District.

"We could not," she says, "request funding for every worthy project that was submitted to us."

Now Sabato looks to Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to come through with the money. On May 15, Warner sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting that it allocate $800,000 for the Youth Leadership Initiative in the upcoming budget.

Warner spokesperson Ricky Parikh says that it will be several months more before the Youth Leadership Initiative learns its fate.

"Every Senator sends these to the committee," says Parikh, "and once Congress passes the budget, they'll go back and divy up the money and decide which requests to fund."

If and when the project comes up for a vote, Barba says Perriello will be voting in favor of it.

"Congressman Perriello is happy to throw his support behind Senator Warner's request," she says.

The Center for Politics' Stroupe says that if Perriello and others in Congress are looking for ways to ensure a healthy and prosperous American democracy in the future, they need look no further than the Youth Leadership Initiative.

"Those who are engaged in civic affairs," says Stroupe, "are the ones driving the engines of economic development and job creation. What this program tries to do is build in young people the skill set to understand how to be engaged in civics."


I think Barba is totally right--this is just ridiculous Washington gossip and speculation. It seems like politico and hawker and all the others are looking for intrigue where there really isn't any.

I think that all of these stories are way off the mark. Honestly, EVERYONE picked Goode to win last november, including those not receiving federal funds. To say that Sabato went out of his way to pick Goode is a joke.

I agree with Ken, this puts in jeopardy an absolutely wonderful program, whose free classroom resources are valued and depended upon by tens of thousands of teachers. I hope everyone is able to look past the politics that people are just conjuring up from nothing here and see the merit of the Youth Leadership Initiative.

I worry about the slow and steady erosion of civics education in the nation's schools, especially when we see efforts like the recent one in Richmond to eliminate the third-grade Social Studies/history requirements. How far down this road are we, as a democratic society, willing to go? Jefferson himself believed that education was the key to maintaining a democratic society. An inclination toward civic participation is not a skill or talent with which we're born. It must be learned.

Senator Mark Warner's support of the Youth Leadership Initiative in the Senate and Congressman Perriello's willingness to write a letter of support for it in the House gives some hope that the program, developed in large measure by our local teachers here in Charlottesville, may continue nationally.

The Youth Initiative sounds like a great program. I would rather have my tax dollars going there than a bridge to nowhere. I am glad Perriello and Warner are ready to fight for it. For the sake of civic education I hope they win funding for it.

As Periello's office says, the story seems more rooted in inside-the-Beltway gossip than in any productive revelation about the Youth Leadership Initiative. It's understandable that lots of mixed feelings exist around earmarks, but as is pointed out in the article above, the YLI offers free teaching tools for thousands of teachers and millions of students, to better equip them to be informed, involved and committed US citizens. Our schools need this kind of support.

The Daily Progress posted an article, which drew teacher and parent comments mentioning how much the materials have helped their students and children understand their rights as American citizens, that provides another perspective on this issue.

There are countless number of students and teachers who have benefited from the Youth Leadership Initiative. Civics education is a crucial area that is constantly being threatened. Just look at recent attempts to remove the Social Studies SOLs, a move that failed thanks to many heroic educators and citizens coming together to protect the study of politics and government. Thomas Jefferson would have been proud of the Youth Leadership Initiative. After all, it was he who championed civics education stating that "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree."

Unfortunately, this story cites a reference and also links to a website that is riddled with inaccuracies and contains the worst possible garbage I can imagine. The readers of this report deserve to know that the referenced website also censors which comments they will include and which they will not, which runs counter to the Terms of Use which are posted on their site. I know this because we have attempted - since they published it - to submit comments on their website, and to date they have not published a single one of them. Not only is the reference irrelevant to your story, but by drawing attention to it in the Hook, it serves to validate this type of unchecked "reporting". I believe it enables such publications and thereby contributes to a growing lack of journalistic standards of integrity.

If the point was to report on the gossip blog's story, then it seems I would have been asked about it by your reporter and I would have noted that the blog has refused to publish responses submitted to them. I also would have noted that the blog published their story stating that their call was not returned, at 1:02 PM on Fri Jun 19 2009 in the afternoon, less than two hours after their call. I discoverd this when I looked for contact information so we could respond to their query. It was then that I found their story had already been written and published. We attempted to call them out on this by posting a reply to the comment section below the story. Not an anonymous reply either, but one that I specifically authored with my name attached noting how quickly the story was published after the call. I received an acknowledgement from their website that my comments were received. However, not one of these corrections or protests submitted by us has been published on their site. This is irresponsible. The next time that site references that a representative of the Center for Politics did not return their call, it will be true.

Sabato declined to comment for this story.

That is the first time these 7 words were ever put together in a sentence. Hell, the guy gives comments on everything from the weather to Brett Favre but he won't comment on his own survival, now that is a story

It is nonsense to think that Sabato had an in for Perriello by calling the race for Goode or was influenced by a contribution. I worked on both of Al Weed's campaigns and know the district intimately. I didn't give Perriello a prayer of a chance to beat Goode, and would call this a complete upset that took even his staunchest supporters by surprise. Hope this program is funded. Without an educated public you can kiss this country as a viable democracy goodbye.