Political Attacks on Virginia's Public Schools (Part 1)

As he did before the 2021 election, Governor Glenn Youngkin continues to inaccurately and unfairly disparage public schools in Virginia. That strategy helped him win the governorship in a close race by stoking culture wars and convincing voters that public schools were denying parents their rights. He now continues to wage culture wars and fuel the rage of some voters and parents.

During the 2021 gubernatorial election, Glenn Youngkin focused on such school related issues as opening schools without adequate mitigation measures during the COVID epidemic, and opposing mask and vaccine mandates for teachers and students. Simultaneously, his campaign painted public schools across the Commonwealth as failing indoctrination institutions, thus he promised to expand charter schools as alternatives. However, it was his false claims that public schools denied “parental rights” that won him the 2021 election.

Once elected, Governor Youngkin continued to disparage Virginia’s public school systems, even claiming at a recent Annandale, VA rally that “progressives” believe “schools should lock children out of their parents’ lives.” Early in his term, the governor’s administration released a report that was highly critical of Virginia’s public schools and attributed an alleged drastic decline in student achievement to policies, choices, and priorities of previous administrations.

Repeatedly in this report, Youngkin claimed that previous administrations had reduced transparency, lowered standards, and caused achievement gaps that eroded public confidence in Virginia’s public schools. However, many professionals in education disagreed with these assertions, including members of the Virginia Board of Education, the Virginia Education Association, city superintendents, the Washington Post, Politifact, and Senate Democrats (including the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus). Published evidence also contradicts the report finding that: Virginia was ranked 4th best in the nation by Forbes, 5th best in the nation by Scholaroo, and unlike claims in the report, has relatively high NAEP math scores. Perhaps more importantly, most Virginia families approve of their public school systems.

How can there be such a discrepancy between the high national rankings for Virginia and the claims in Governor Youngkin’s report? Experts point to the fact that the Youngkin administration erroneously compared scores that should not be compared, for example, the term “proficient” is scored differently among standardized tests. Despite this failure to compare standardized tests appropriately, the Youngkin administration claimed that was an “honesty gap” on behalf of prior administrations, not a “careless conflation of NAEP’s “proficient” benchmark with grade-level performance” by its own administration.

Nevertheless, Governor Youngkin continues to claim that Virginia’s public schools are failing in order to spur voter interest in education alternatives that involve diverting public funds from public schools by way of school vouchers for students to attend private schools, and creating new charter and lab schools. It is even possible that the Governor would personally profit by diverting public school funds to private businesses, since he recently resigned from, but is still heavily invested in the Carlyle Group, a private firm that invests in private education. As a result, diversion of public school funds to private schools and education ventures in and around the United States seems likely to benefit Carlyle Group portfolios.

Of course, there are schools in Virginia that are not performing adequately for students, like other public school systems across the nation. Those schools tend to be in low-income communities and tend to be inadequately funded. It is incumbent upon the Youngkin administration to better provide for those schools, not to destroy the largely successful public school system in the Commonwealth. Yet, parents are being lured toward the idea that publicly funding private schools and new charter schools offer quick solutions to perceived problems with their community schools while potential problems associated with diverting public school funds to private businesses are inadequately evaluated.

In Part 2, Honest Conversations about Attacks on Public Education, of this two-part series of , members of the Virginia Senate and House continue the discussion on how Virginia’s Governor actions impact the success of public schools.