Education was one of the top three issues for Virginia voters, and especially for those who ultimately backed Youngkin. Why?
Well, parents across the country have increasingly demanded more educational options in the face of mask mandates, critical race theory curriculums, and unscientific, union-driven school closures.
What is School Choice?
School choice can take many forms. But it typically includes education savings accounts, which give parents discretion over what educational institution gets their tax dollars.
Basically, the money meant for a child’s education doesn’t go to a government-run school by default. It follows the student. The driving idea behind school choice is that families, not the government, can choose the educational path best suited for their children.
School choice is not throwing more money at the failing government school system. School choice is not continuing to trap kids in schools they’re assigned based on their zip code. And school choice is not about mandating and overriding curriculums and policies within the public school system. (I might not be the best at math, but I’m pretty sure the latter subtracts from the educational choices on the table instead of adding to them.)
Youngkin’s School Choice Week Statement is a Giant Disappointment
Yet, in his early days in office, Governor Youngkin is going in all of the above directions rather than truly promoting school choice. In a statement marking school choice week, Youngkin said this:
“As your governor, I will continually stand up for students and parents and will sign the largest education budget in Virginia’s history. Our goal is that every student will graduate high school ready to go to college or start a great career. Choice and innovation within public education is vital to achieving that goal. That’s why together we will not only raise standards and raise teacher pay, but we will invest $150 million to kick start 20 new charter schools in the Commonwealth. We must empower parents and students with choice and innovation in K-12 public education.”
Choice within public education is not nearly enough, because we’re all mandated to pay for it—even as it fails to meet the mark for many families. This statement sounds like Youngkin is caving to the very teachers’ unions he was elected to fight against. Why should teachers get a pay increase while the Virginia school system is hemorrhaging students and the teachers’ unions spend taxpayer dollars to lobby to keep their doors shut?
Is Youngkin Actually Restricting School Choice?
Not only that, but in his few short weeks in office, Youngkin has focused his educational priorities on policies that actually reduce choice within the school system.
For example, on his first day in office, Youngkin banned “inherently divisive concepts” in the public school curriculum. What does that even mean?
The order defines it as “advancing any ideas in violation of Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” and provides a number of race-related concepts that would apply to. It would seem, given the presence of the Civil Rights Act, that these things would already be illegal, but Youngkin’s intent in the order seems to be aimed at critical race theory.
Yet critical race theory wouldn’t even be a culture war issue if it weren’t for governments trapping kids in public schools in the first place. It should be up to the parents to determine which curriculum tracts they want their kids on and what concepts are too “divisive.” They could easily make these decisions through the free market if actual school choice were in play.
Winsome Earle-Sears is Still Standing Strong
Youngkin seems to be waffling on the issue that got him to the top. But Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Winsome Earle-Sears, is not.
“We need to recognize that every child is different,” Earle-Sears wrote in a recent op-ed. “Families need a variety of options to educate their child. No one system can do it all for everyone. Let’s give parents the resources so they can make the right choice for their children. We can do that with an Education Savings Account, by utilizing the Virginia Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit, and by opening more charter schools, lab schools and virtual schools.”
"Frederick Douglass once said, 'Education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free."https://t.co/dCECYZjlOu #everforward #virginia
— Winsome Earle-Sears (@WinsomeSears) February 6, 2022
Earle-Sears is the first black woman to hold statewide office in Virginia, and it should surprise no one that she intrinsically understands the desperate pleas for educational freedom from families in her state. Polling in the black community shows strong support for school choice, which makes sense because government policies, like redlining, have ensured that people of color are often zoned to the worst public schools. This creates generational poverty.
Governor Youngkin owes the people of Virginia the actual choice he promised. Government schooling might mean many Americans fall below average in science and math comprehension, but we still know how to spell “disappointment.”