by Brandon Jarvis

During a rally in Loudoun County Wednesday night, Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin revealed a plan that he says will establish higher standards in public schools. Earlier in the day, Democrats accused him of attacking teachers and threatening to defund the schools that don’t comply with his political beliefs. Both Youngkin and the Democrats agree on one thing, however. They believe political beliefs do not belong in classrooms. 

“The classroom is not the place for political agenda,” Youngkin said at the rally. “Our children should not be the victims of the left-liberal progressive cultural war.” 

Youngkin told the crowd that the focus of the first phase of his education plan is raising the standards in classrooms by making math, reading, and writing a priority. He continued to say he would immediately replace the Secretary of Education, state superintendent, and Board of Education. “I hope that state superintendent is still there when I take office so I can escort him to the door.”

Phase two of Youngkin’s education policy plan will be investing in public schools and phase three will include policies to empower parents across Virginia with school choice. “We must establish higher standards and improved curricula, increase investment in teachers and facilities, and empower parents to choose the best education path for their child,” he said in a statement to Virginia Scope Wednesday. 

Democrats said during a press call Wednesday afternoon that the Republicans stymied growth and investment in public schools when they controlled the House of Delegates from the early ’90s to 2019. “Democrats have delivered. After a decade in which the Republicans have allowed the system to decay, we have started to make it robust again,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, a Democrat from Henrico. “In the last two years, the state of Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia, has gotten back into the game.”

Looking forward, Youngkin told the crowd Wednesday night that he will sign an executive order to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) on his first day in office if he is elected. CRT, a topic sweeping national politics, is a learning model with the theory that the United States was built on systemic racism. Republicans are using it as a lightning rod issue, but school districts across Virginia have repeatedly stated they are not implementing CRT in their curriculum. 

Loudoun County, a place that Youngkin referred to as ground zero during his rally, has made national news in the last week as their board discusses new transgender policies. Last week a School Board meeting was shut down to the public and two people were arrested after the crowd grew irate with the members of the board over the proposed policy. 

The same crowds were also pushing back loudly against CRT, even though Loudoun officials say that CRT is not being taught in their schools. “Despite what the fearmongering media tells you — no — critical race theory is not being taught in our schools, period,” said School Board Chair Brenda Sheridan at the meeting last week. 

Democrats are also trying to tie Youngkin to the Ku Klux Klan after people claiming to be associated with the Loyal White Knights have been passing out flyers encouraging people to oppose the proposed transgender rights policy or any plans for racial equity. “The KKK has distributed flyers against the Fairfax and Loudoun school boards, but Youngkin has done nothing to turn down the temperature,” said Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. 

“My colleagues and I have been receiving death threats for months now because of an organized campaign from political operatives who have been targeting our school board,” said Loudoun County School Board Vice-Chair Atoosa Reaser in the press call with Democrats. “By creating controversies to score political points, they’re making it harder for us to do our jobs which is to protect the diverse student body of Loudon schools.”

Reaser, a Democrat, generally blames Youngkin and his allies for the uproar against the School Board. “Youngkin and his political allies should stop playing politics with our students’ education. The use of our students and families as political pawns is despicable,” Reaser said. “The threats of violence against school board members is horrific and real. This has to stop, and we need to be able to do our job.”

Youngkin has not publicly addressed the flyers or death threats publicly, but he believes his policy ideas will benefit all of Virginia’s kids. “Together, we will strengthen Virginia’s academic standards and improve opportunities for ALL students by establishing transparent metrics and accountability to restore excellence to public schools,” Youngkin said in a statement to Virginia Scope. 

Youngkin is facing off with former Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and Independent candidate Princess Blanding to be the top executive in Virginia.

Youngkin says that McAuliffe reduced the standards for schools to reach accreditation. “Under Terry McAuliffe, Virginia lowered accreditation standards and math proficiency standards, damaging Virginia’s schools and students,” Youngkin said in a statement.

It is true that changes were made to the assessment system in Virginia’s public school during McAuliffe’s first term as governor. His administration did remove five SOL tests from the required slate for elementary and middle school students in Virginia. They replaced the mandated tests with different assessment methods chosen by local school districts.

The Board of Education also changed the accreditation system under McAuliffe by moving away from strictly tallying up the SOL test scores and giving more credit to schools that show progress in different areas. The number of accredited schools did increase drastically under his administration the year after elementary and middle school students were allowed to retake most of their SOLs if they failed the first time.

McAuliffe’s administration did not abandon math, however. They placed a focus on science, technology, engineering, math and health (STEM-H) fields by starting an initiative to have 50,000 STEM-H students graduate each year. A goal they reached his final year in office.

McAuliffe recently called for an increased investment into public schools when the Finance Secretary announced a surplus for this year that could possibly hit $2 billion. “We need to invest in education,” he said in an interview. “I think it is the single biggest thing we can do. If we do that, we build the best workforce in the country — businesses from all over the globe will come into Virginia.”   

Youngkin said Wednesday night that he will provide more details on his investment plans for public schools in the future.

The general election is Nov. 2 — early voting begins on Sept. 15.

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By vascope