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There he Goes Again: More Gaslighting from Youngkin

Governor Youngkin continues to Gaslight Virginia

The Gaslighting Continues while Youngkin Explains away his Vetoes

Although Governor Glenn Youngkin claims to be making education his priority, his actions continue to tell a different story. 

While setting a new record for the number of bills vetoed in a single year, the Governor all but eliminated the General Assembly’s ability to act on recommendations for K-12 education from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). The compromise budget that passed did not address the critical underfunding of K-12 education but instead used one time funds to delay the crisis. In addition, the governor continued to fearmonger as he wasted the chance to help many more Virginia’s students succeed. 

The Governor misled Virginians when he claimed that enough additional funding had been given to K-12 education which he announced was “nearly 10% increase over the previous biennium.” This amount does not keep up with inflation which was about 15% during that interval and does nothing to solve the ongoing serious underfunding of k-12 education in Virginia. 

The one-time funding that was provided this year used “a variety of tactics that may jeopardize our ability to support these critical investments in the future” according to The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis. Instead of lawmakers “updating our tax code to reflect the economy we live in today,” our Governor allowed the budget surplus to temporarily bridge the gap in K-12 education this next year. 

Here, we will evaluate the legitimacy of the explanations the Governor gave for why he vetoed 4 Public Education’s priority bills, most of which passed with bipartisan support in the General Assembly. 

Teacher Compensation

In addition to concluding that K-12 education in Virginia is seriously underfunded, JLARC provided recommendations on how to alleviate the worsening teacher shortage. However, little was done this session to codify changes that would resolve that issue. 

Two General Assembly bills HB187 and SB105 intended to raise teacher salaries to meet the national average by the 2027-28 school year and they passed with bipartisan votes. Yet the Governor vetoed these bills and provided a rationale with no basis in fact that “Virginia’s average teacher pay was already projected to exceed the national average this fiscal year.” Not only is teacher pay in Virginia NOT “projected to exceed the national average this fiscal year,” Virginia will need to raise teacher pay by 14% over the 2026-27 and 2027-28 school years to get to the national average by 2028. 

Also, the Governor is mistaken that “teacher salaries have increased by 23% since 2021.” Anyone can access data contradicting Youngkin’s claim on the VDOE Education Workforce Data & Reports webpage. According to those data–if one used the correct way to calculate the change–average teacher salaries increased during that interval by 10.7%, not 23% as the Governor claims. However, it is clear that teacher pay in Virginia is not even keeping up with inflation, since inflation during that interval was 15.75%

Although this year’s suggested 3% raise for teachers’ salaries was made possible due to an unplanned budget surplus, there is no requirement to raise salaries in the future because the teacher salary bills were vetoed by Youngkin. Without a budget surplus, what will happen in the future? We should remember the warning from the previous President of the Virginia Board of Education, Daniel Gecker, “[W]e cannot expect to attract and retain a high-quality cadre of teachers if we continually underpay the profession relative to other college graduates.” 

Authorization to hold a referendum to support schools

Of course, there is abundant evidence that K-12 education is NOT adequately funded in Virginia, but both Governor Youngkin and his Board of Education continue to claim that Virginia K-12 schools are adequately funded. Besides the JLARC report citing evidence to the contrary, in 2023, the previous president of the Virginia Board of Education, Daniel Gecker, warned that,

We are “starving the [school] system of resources.” 

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the state could not better fund the schools, now the Governor has deprived local jurisdictions from finding a way to fund their schools! By vetoing HB803 and SB14, the Governor prevented localities from holding referendums to consider increasing sales taxes to help fund their local public schools; even though, those bills passed the General Assembly with bipartisan votes and would have enabled local residents to decide (through a referendum) whether they should increase sales taxes to better fund their schools. 

In Virginia, local governments shoulder a significant portion of the burden of funding public schools because the Commonwealth pays a much smaller proportion of school expenses, but now localities are handicapped by Governor Youngkin’s veto from even raising funds locally! There are few other local options other than the overwhelmingly unpopular option of increasing property taxes. Essentially, Youngkin tied local governments' hands while forcing them to open their pockets to avoid teacher layoffs and underfunded schools.

By vetoing these bills, the Governor can brag that Virginia has no new taxes. In truth, he succeeded at that by underfunding education and preventing localities from increasing funding to their schools even if they wanted to. 

Restorative Student Discipline

Governor Youngkin vetoed two bills that would have reformed how schools approach student discipline. He justified his vetoes of SB 586 and HB 398 by claiming that Virginia is in the midst of a school discipline crisis, that teachers are concerned about decaying discipline, and that he objected to “forcing school administrators to first utilize restorative practices rather than immediately suspending or otherwise disciplining students who are violent in school.” 

The Governor used these vetoes to present his “tough on crime” agenda but failed to acknowledge that restorative discipline, outlined in the bills, was not meant to be used for serious or violent infractions. Instead, this reform was meant for less serious infractions to decrease suspensions and expulsions from schools in order to mitigate a cycle of exclusion that can lead to academic disengagement and increased student involvement with the justice system, neither of which is necessary or helpful for minor issues. 

Punitive measures are too often used as a first resort, especially for students of color and disabled students. In fact, it was reported that the Commonwealth of Virginia had the highest rate of school-based criminal referrals in 2015, and referrals were disproportionately greater for disabled and black students. 

Since 2015 there have been other unsuccessful attempts to reform school disciplinary practices but Youngkin’s vetoes will ensure that Virginia will remain the state that leads in referring students to law enforcement for even the slightest offenses. Thus Virginia will continue to support the school-to-prison pipeline. Sadly, we know that other approaches are more effective, including approaches like community service, mentoring, peer juries, and peer counseling, all of which can foster peer and staff relationships while repairing harm to the injured party. 

Bills SB 586 and HB 398 were championed by Chlo’e Edwards, Policy Director at New Virginia Majority, and were aligned with the new federal guidelines for reducing the high rates of discipline for students with disabilities and potentially discriminatory behavior by school administrators and law enforcement. The intent of the bills was to reduce the number of suspensions, expulsions, and other punitive disciplinary actions in cases where students may be able to benefit from initial use mentoring and peery counseling, as part of “restorative disciplinary practices.” 

Sadly, because of Youngkin’s veto, Virginia public schools will not be encouraged to use the evidence-based, restorative discipline approaches that would provide opportunities for positive and instructive responses to misconduct. Students will be denied the opportunity to develop the self discipline and appropriate conduct they will need to grow into emotionally healthy adults. The use of restorative discipline could have provided many advantages to students. For example, a 2023 study found that high rates of student exposure to restorative practices at school also increased achievement and reduced mental health challenges. 

Governor Youngkin’s explanation for vetoing HB 398 and SB586 shows he values his “tough on crime” agenda over the needs of actual students, much less their parents. According to Edwards, “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime." In Virginia, only 5 percent of out-of- school suspensions are given for serious or dangerous disciplinary incidents, such as possession of a weapon or drugs on campus. We are talking about our youth, not criminals. Furthermore, the bills had exemptions for inherently violent offenses and aggravated circumstances. 

Funding for At-Risk students

Virginia law acknowledges that “poor children are more at risk of educational failure than children from more affluent homes,” so it follows that students from low income families require additional resources. The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis reported that:

“More money is needed for low-income students because they require additional services and supports, like early childhood learning so they enter kindergarten with basic skills, and additional instruction and remediation for struggling students. The schools serving these students also need to provide salaries that attract and retain the best teachers, which can be more expensive in high-poverty communities. These types of investments have been shown to be effective nationwide in improving test scores and graduation rates, and even improving adult earnings.”

Governor Youngkin has tried to blame student achievement gaps in the Commonwealth on unrelated issues, but it is clear that providing more funding to at-risk students would help close achievement gaps. HB 624 and SB 105 intended to establish an At-Risk Program to provide support services for students who are educationally at risk. These bills were aligned with the Governor’s interest to close the achievement gap among students, so it is surprising that he vetoed these bills that would help to close that gap! However, the Governor gave an excuse that the bills would have “significant changes to education funding” so before the funding for at-risk students is codified, Youngkin wants the funding formula to be studied. The Governor noted a review of the Commonwealth’s funding formula is due by November 1, 2024. 

Meanwhile, the budget surplus provided one year of funding to better support at-risk students. Like so many other parts of the K-12 education budget, we don’t know what will happen to at-risk student support when we do not have a surplus budget. We can not rely on future budget surpluses to fund our at-risk students. At the same time, Virginia lags behind other states in funding for at-risk students. 

Where do Education Advocates go from here?

Lawmakers and public school advocates are breathing a temporary sigh of relief because education priorities have been funded for the next fiscal year. What has not been resolved is what will happen in subsequent years when there are no surplus funds. For that reason we do not have the luxury of resting in our education advocacy. We must continue to push to get funding and needed reforms codified into Virginia law by encouraging lawmakers to reintroduce the vetoed bills and also by helping to get them passed in the 2025 General Assembly session.

Budget decisions made at the state-level have serious local consequences. Angst and anger have marred meetings of Boards of Supervisors and School Boards across the Commonwealth because funding from the state was inadequate relative to the needs of public schools.

Now that the Governor has vetoed the referendum bill, which is a way localities could raise their own funds, there is not much that local officials can do to bridge the gap of public school needs versus available funds. So, be sure to point in the right direction when it comes to Virginia’s budget.

Finger-pointing about the Virginia Public Education budget

Virginians must stay vigilant and evaluate the truthfulness of what the Governor says. Over the past couple of years Governor Youngkin has frequently provided inaccurate information in an apparent attempt to sway public opinion. In addition to the examples provided above in this article, 4 Public Education has identified inaccurate statements from Governor Youngkin about a manufactured crisis over SAT scores, a manufactured crisis over SOL scores, incorrectly interpreting NAEP scores, the state of the K-12 funding, the 2023 manufactured National Merit Scholar crisis, and the impacts of the Commonwealth’s education budget. And, now we know that he uses misinformation to rationalize his decision to veto bills. It is particularly egregious that he uses fear mongering to prevent school disciplinary practices reform even though these reforms have been shown to be safe, effective, and restorative

We must stay vigilant and question what Governor Youngkin says. We must advocate for K-12 funding to be written into Virginia Code!


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