It’s going to take more than a ban on critical race theory to make Virginia schools great again.
On Election Day, political newcomer Glenn Youngkin upset Terry McAuliffe to be elected governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which a year ago voted for President Biden by ten points. McAuliffe enjoyed a significant lead in the race until September 28th, when he made the critical error of dismissing parents who were challenging school board policies. Youngkin capitalized on this misstep by refocusing his campaign on the issue. As October wore on, McAuliffe inexplicably doubled down on his error, claiming that parents’ concerns about critical race theory were a “racist dog whistle” and bringing in the AFT’s Randi Weingarten (of mask mandate extortion fame) as his closer.
Exit polls reveal that education trailed the economy and COVID policy when it came to importance to voters. But make no mistake: had McAuliffe not said the quiet part out loud at that second debate, he would be governor-elect today. Now Youngkin has to deliver on his educational promises if he wants to keep the support of those independents and Democrats who crossed over to him.
A CRT Ban Is Not Enough
For starters, Youngkin has promised to ban critical race theory on his first day in office. This is a fine symbolic move, but it won’t be enough to turn back the leftist tide in education.
First, the educational establishment is all but certain to challenge such a ban in court. Despite the wounds they’ve suffered over the last eighteen months, teachers’ unions and school districts still have deep pockets and massive political clout that they are willing to use to maintain their virtual monopoly over the minds of American children. What’s more, the educrats play dirty when it comes to protecting their power, as the recent fracas over the National School Board Association’s letter smearing concerned parents clearly shows.
Even if Youngkin’s ban withstands years of legal scrutiny, CRT will remain a serious problem in our public schools. This poisonous philosophy didn’t appear overnight; it came from the universities that have been dominated by the Left for decades. Its loyal acolytes will simply take it underground by finding slightly more subtle ways to incorporate its principles into classroom assignments and school policy manuals, all the while proclaiming that it doesn’t really exist.
School Choice Can Starve the Beast
If Youngkin is serious about supporting parents in their quest to reform education, then he will need to adopt a more comprehensive strategy that increases school choice in Virginia. The one thing that the educational establishment fears is actual competition for students and the tax money that comes with them. With this approach, Youngkin can give parents options when it comes to leaving corrupt and failing public schools and thus force those schools to rethink their curriculum and policies.
There is certainly a lot of room for improvement for school choice in Virginia. Currently, the entire state has only seven charter schools, a situation that the educats applaud because, in the view of James J. Fedderman, the head of Virginia Education Association, they are “just another way to take money away from public schools.” In 2017, then Governor McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have made charter schools easier to establish, cementing his position as the darling of the teachers’ unions.
If educrats hate charter schools, then they absolutely despise school vouchers, which allow parents to get back some of the tax money they pay for public schools and use it for private schooling. To date, Virginia’s only effort along this line is its 2013 Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program, which gives individuals and businesses a tax credit for donating to scholarship foundations, who then provide private school scholarships for low-income children.
Youngkin’s education plan recognizes these discrepancies and starts to address them. He wants to add twenty new charter schools during his term as governor and to use $1.2 billion of federal American Rescue Plan funds to provide parents with $500 vouchers to pay for “recovery from the learning loss and mental health issues created by our failed public schools.” Reintroducing the 2017 bill that his opponent vetoed would be another excellent step towards these reforms.
And what about homeschooling, the “nuclear option” of concerned parents? Youngkin has not said much on the campaign trail about homeschooling, yet as the number of homeschooling families in the state increases, he should make sure not to leave them behind by including homeschooling families in any voucher programs and reducing potential hurdles such as excessive recordkeeping.
Critics whine that school choice policies siphon money away from traditional public schools. Yes, they do; that’s the entire point. For too long, the educrats have acted like they have a divine right to taxpayer money without any real accountability. Turning off the spigot will be a wake-up call that Virginia parents are back in charge of their children’s educations. What’s more, such reforms support what a majority of adults in Virginia say they want, a rare moment when doing the right thing is also politically advantageous.
Youngkin’s First Priority: Back the Parents’ Revolution
In the end, however, real educational change in the Commonwealth won’t come from the governor’s mansion or the House of Delegates, but from the parents themselves. They should continue to pressure school boards, reminding them that they serve local families, not the national educational establishment. For his part, Youngkin needs to back these parents up, especially when the educrats call upon law enforcement to stymie honest and open debate.
In a post-Election Day interview with Tucker Carlson, Governor-Elect Youngkin stated, “[W]hen [parents] heard Terry McAuliffe say…that parents don’t have a role in their kids’ education…this ceased to be a campaign, and it started to be a movement led by parents.” If he keeps this truth in mind, the Old Dominion will become a model for other states on how to win the war for the minds and souls of our children.