Youngkin pledged more parental control of education, but changes may prove difficult – The Washington Post
Glenn Youngkin pivoted hard to education near the end of the governor’s race, firing up his base with promises to give parents more control over what children learn in school. But the governor-elect is unlikely to usher in much immediate change for Virginia students, education policy experts said.
To grant parents radically increased say in what or how teachers teach, Youngkin would have to overhaul the structure of American public-school education in Virginia, which is now determined by state standards and elected school boards that represent all residents of a district, not just parents. Moreover, Governor-elect Youngkin will face an uncooperative state Senate, where Democrats still have control. .
Continued Democratic control of the Senate puts broad policy changes requiring legislative agreement out of Youngkin’s reach, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. But as a candidate, Youngkin never proposed many specific education policy changes anyway, Farnsworth added.
Youngkin was elected after a close and contentious campaign. The Republican winner, a wealthy 54-year-old former private equity executive at the Carlyle Group with no political experience, spent much of the campaign lamenting the state of Virginia’s economy decrying high taxes, spiking crime rates, and mask and vaccine mandates.
But throughout the campaign, Youngkin — whose own children attend or have graduated from private school — kept coming back to public schools, mining a national vein of anger among some conservative parents, who insist their children are being indoctrinated with critical race theory. The theory, a college-level academic framework that holds racism is systemic in America, is not taught at the K-12 level in Virginia — or anywhere else in the country.
It’s “a win for parents that are looking for a greater role in their children’s education,” said Ian Prior, a Loudoun County father and head of Fight for Schools, a parent group seeking to recall members of the Loudoun school board that also opposes the district’s recent efforts to promote racial equity. “I believe we will see many families keep their children in public schools, and school boards will start collaborating more with parents on the best way forward.”
Victoria Cobb, president of the conservative advocacy group the Family Foundation of Virginia, said Youngkin “will support policies that recognize moms and dads as essential to the education of our children.” Cobb said Youngkin’s governorship will help restore mothers’ and fathers’ trust in the education system statewide.
But Jack Schneider, associate professor of education at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, said Youngkin can do very little to increase parental control over school curriculums. The way public education has long functioned in America, he said, is that schools are not directly accountable to parents but are instead governed by democratically elected school boards.
School board members are meant to represent every county resident whose tax dollars fund the public school system, Schneider said, not just those with children. And the boards have large latitude to determine what children learn in schools, although they must abide by statewide standards of learning in Virginia.
One area in which Youngkin has more power to act is that of Governor’s Schools, the handful of magnet high schools and summer programs in Virginia that serve gifted students. The state’s department of education administers the programs, although local school boards and superintendents are allowed input, meaning Youngkin’s administration could enact change almost unilaterally.
Fairfax County school officials last year enacted major changes to Thomas Jefferson’s admissions process, eliminating a notoriously tough test and asking reviewers to consider applicants’ “experience factors” such as socioeconomic background. The revisions led to the acceptance of the most diverse class of students in recent memory.
Meanwhile, some parents in neighboring Loudoun County are fearful that Youngkin’s ascent will mean an end to the district’s fledgling racial justice initiatives — including holding bias trainings for staff members — that school officials launched two years ago after two high-profile reports found widespread racism in Loudoun schools. The county has since become the face of the nation’s culture wars, with parents feuding at board meetings over critical race theory and transgender rights.
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