Attacks on Virginia's Public Schools: Honest Conversations (Part 2)


Part 1 of this 2-part series, introduced Governor Youngkin’s attack on public education during and after his campaign. This second part focuses on recent Honest Conversations among legislators hosted by the former Virginia Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, that debunked the Governor’s lies.

The legislators are on legislative committees that consider public education bills including: Senators Louise Lucas, Mamie Locke, and Ghazala Hashmi who serve on the Senate Education and Health Committee; and Delegate Elizabeth Guzman who serves on the House Education Committee. All agreed that Youngkin’s attack on public education helped him win the Governorship in 2021, and his administration continues the attacks using misinformation to mislead Virginia’s voters. The four legislators described how damaging those attacks are to Virginia’s students and the public school system in general. Thankfully, they promised to fight the Governor’s attempt to divert funding away from public schools by offering firm intentions to continue to fight for public education resources in the Commonwealth.


Senator Lucas, Chair of the Senate Committee, charged the Governor with focusing his attacks on the previous administration’s successes and using misinformation to stir outrage in the voting public. The erroneous claims have reduced the public’s confidence in public schools and are employed to make the case for privatizing public schools. Senator Lucas promised “We are not going to let the Governor do that. We will expose his attempts to defund our public schools. We cannot divert money from public education on the backs of poor children… we must fully fund all [public] schools, and provide more funding to schools in low-income communities… We need to call [the Governor] out on this nonsense"

We cannot divert money from public education on the backs of poor children… we must fully fund all [public] schools, and provide more funding to schools in low-income communities… We need to call [the Governor] out on this nonsense.

Senator Locke shared that she is a product of an unequal public school system; however, she “found education to be the great equalizer.” Locke stated, “Our students deserve to know the diverse and complex world in which we live in order to build the communities we want to see…We should not have to fight this battle [for inclusive history but] we must fight, because we must not allow the whitewashing of Virginia history…We can’t [accomplish our education goals] if we have an administration that does not believe in diversity, equity and inclusion… It is my hope that we can weather this storm … until such time that we can ensure that we can go back to a sense of reasonableness…and provide the diversity and equity that we need for the education of our children.”

We should not have to fight this battle [for inclusive history but] we must fight, because we must not allow the whitewashing of Virginia history.

Senator Hashmi said “Public education is the cornerstone of public good. Children must be able to work and communicate across culture, racial and ethnic lines and we must provide that context in our public schools [with] a broad and inclusive history curriculum.” She reported “Currently teachers are demoralized… they are concerned about the [Governor’s] ‘tipline’ and feel constantly under attack.” Referring to the Governor calling his plan for education ‘innovative’, the senator reminded us “We already know how to provide a quality education [and we] must rely on that information instead of falling for buzzwords used by the Youngkin administration…We must focus on the students, ensure small class sizes, provide individual attention, repair the teacher retention issue by paying teachers well… We must step back from the culture wars.” Senator Hashmi reminded us that when public school funds are diverted to corporations, K-12 education suffers, as has happened in other states. “This is the direction that this administration wants to take public education in Virginia. And we have every responsibility to fight back against that.”

We must focus on the students, ensure small class sizes, provide individual attention, repair the teacher retention issue by paying teachers well… We must step back from the culture wars.

Delegate Guzman pointed out that “Governor Youngkin is not here for students, teachers, or most parents, and that his policies and agenda target only a small but vocal group of parents…Parents are not a homogeneous group and that the Governor does not listen to the many parents who are upset with his policies and the inaccurate information he shares.” One example of the Governor’s problematic policies: his attempt to delay the approval of the revised History and Social Studies Standards of Learning (SOL) that has already gone through a time-consuming revision and review by historians, educators, administrators, and parents. Guzman states that, “Any further delay in approving [the revised SOL] is not necessary or warranted. Most parents and teachers want the Governor to honor the constitution, adopt the standards and do what is best for the students.” Instead, the governor is trying to silence the voices of many Virginians by removing references to African American and other minority groups from the document. “[He is] trying to suppress the history that students need to know” while also stimulating outrage among the electorate by removing the parts of history he claims to be divisive.

He’s tone deaf on the needs of Virginians and what we need in public education…We have one of the best public education systems in the world…and we will fight tooth and nail to protect what we’ve accomplished so far.

Secretary Qarni offered a historical perspective explaining that “ historical backlash [sometimes occurs] after significant social justice progress has been made.” For example, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Virginia responded with Massive Resistance which closed public schools rather than allow integration of the public schools.

4PublicEducation.org agrees that we need to resist the backlash against the progress we made in Virginia. We need to continue to have honest conversations about Virginia's history and our public schools.