Education a key issue in Virginia governor’s race

As election day dawned this morning in Virginia, a new Cygnal poll of 800-plus likely voters shows Terry McAuliffe and Glen Youngkin are running neck-and-neck for the governor’s race.

As is the case in many states, education has become a key issue in Virginia, leading pollster Brent Buchanan to proclaim that independent voters and parents of K-12 students are “stampeding” to support Youngkin.

Meanwhile, results from a recent WFXR (Virginia) News/Emerson College poll show the issues that are most important to voters are education, jobs, COVID-19, healthcare, and taxes – in that order. When broken down by party, two issues make the top five for both Republicans and Democrats: education and jobs.

In the Virginia race, the candidates have starkly different positions on education.

In a candidates’ debate in late September, McAuliffe stated: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” In contrast, Youngkin is on record as being committed to keeping public schools open, making them better, and encouraging school choice that aims to create at least 20 new charter schools across the state.

While Virginia parents have choices, ranging from charters to a tax credit scholarship to attend private schools, these choices are limited, and the scholarship is not large enough to help the 1.2 million students attending public schools in Virginia.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently reported that there are only eight charter schools – free public schools that are exempt from some of the rules that apply to traditional public schools – in the state of Virginia.

When it comes to allowing low-income families to have access to private school options, only 4,498 students are participating in the tax credit scholarship, a life-changing program, given that the program funding is capped at $25 million per year for a population of over one million K-12 students.

While Virginia did well in the latest round of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing, Virginia parents clearly need options for reasons not necessarily based on test scores. Parents across the country have been showing up in droves to school board meetings to voice their discontent at what’s being taught in public schools. In Virginia, many are speaking out against the majority-white racial makeup of school boards, asking that minorities be given more support.

Hispanic and Black parents’ voices need to be heard. They need to be able to help their children succeed, but they continue to be underrepresented. According to a study released in April from  Education Reform Now, Blacks and Hispanics account for 34% of Virginia’s college-age population. Yet just three of Virginia’s 15 four-year public universities have Black and Hispanic enrollment levels that match the population.

If the last year and a half taught us anything, it is that a one-size-fits-all education system does not work for families. A candidate for governor who says parents shouldn’t be telling schools what they should teach is sending the wrong message if he expects to win their votes on election day.

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BY Valeria Gurr

Valeria Gurr serves as director of external relations for the American Federation for Children. She was program coordinator and program manager for the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy and is a passionate advocate for educational choice, particularly for underserved families.

One Comment

Rick Theisen

I’m an outsider, from Canada. I understand that Hispanics and Blacks need to be represented. And I saw on the news that white mothers had objections to McAuliff’s handling of education. Was there any particular spark that drove Virginians to vote for Youngkin? What subjects do parents want taught? What subject do parents not want taught? Or were the parents completely shut out of the decision-making process?

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