What the Data Say: Youngkin’s problematic education plan

Governor Youngkin is pushing to institute the MAGA-Republican doctrine in Virginia. Last week the Montgomery County Dialogue on Race held a community briefing on our response to Governor Youngkin’s problematic education plan. 

In May 2022, the Youngkin administration released a report, “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students.” And on August 27, 2022, led by its Education Issue Group, the Montgomery County Dialogue on Race convened over 150 local citizens to examine and critique this document. We met in smaller groups later to go into more detail about the issues raised in the August 27 meeting.

Although many of our community participants considered the document vague and needed operational statements, the titles of the principles in the Governor’s plan were clear. Unfortunately, some of the Governor’s policies contradict some of the principles stated in the document.

For example, one principle specifies “freedom of inquiry.” Yet the Youngkin administration is banning award-winning books from schools and libraries. These books include award-winning volumes, including a book by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Freedom of inquiry does not exist where books are banned. In addition, the Governor issued an executive order that mandates the end of teaching or discussing so-called “divisive concepts.” These actions are serious steps backward, as addressing critical issues is a cornerstone of education.

Another principle calls for “zero tolerance for discrimination.” However, The Youngkin administration violated this principle before the ink was dry. In September of 2022, through the Virginia Department of Education, the Governor proposed policies that restrict the rights of transgender students. In 2021, Governor Northam instituted policies for transgender students that intended to bring Virginia in line with court rulings and national policies. However, one year later, Governor Youngkin proposed reversing those protections and initiating probably illegal policies. Please note that discrimination against transgender individuals is unlawful discrimination based on sex. 

Federal court decisions have upheld protections for transgender people. For example, a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision, written by Trump appointee Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, ruled that civil rights law barring sex discrimination covers transgender people. 

Before this principle of “zero tolerance for discrimination” was written, Governor Youngkin initiated a racial discrimination policy by abolishing Virginia’s equity initiatives. It is widely accepted that racial inequities exist in Virginia and that previous statewide policies and practices were instrumental in creating some of these inequities. These are policies like racial segregation, where, for example, African American taxpayers helped build institutions that they and their children could not attend. Through the years, increasing numbers of Virginia citizens recognized these facts and set about instituting remedies, some of which were policies to promote equity where we have inequality or inequity. To thwart these efforts is to push for the maintenance of inequities, which is racist.

Another Youngkin administration principle specifies “increasing school choice,” which usually means choice outside public schools, using public education money for vouchers to pay tuition to private schools and for state funding of charter schools. However, while parents have the right to choose where they send their children, scarce public funds should not be used to support the choice of private schools because—among other issues—these schools.