Many view the Virginia governor’s race as a bellwether for 2022 and a referendum on President Biden’s agenda. The race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin is much closer than conventional wisdom would have predicted. The race heated up after an exchange during a debate about the parents’ role in the education of their children.
What seems to be the central issue in the campaign surfaced when the moderator asked the candidates whether “protections for transgender students” should be determined at the state level or in each school district. Youngkin raised the issue of school districts not listening to parents when they objected to portions of the curricula, citing sexually explicit classroom content in Fairfax County. He clearly stated his position that parents are in charge of the education of their children.
McAuliffe shot back, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Needless to say, his statement is at the heart of a debate that is taking place in school board meetings nationwide after parents got a view into their children’s curricula thanks to distance learning during COVID-19. Many parents were horrified.
McAuliffe doubled down on the sentiment in subsequent interviews, and his poll numbers started to slide. Shortly after, Daily Wire broke a story out of Loudoun County, Virginia, setting the record straight about a viral video of law enforcement officers dragging a parent from a school board meeting. Activists used the video as fodder to support Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision to direct the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ offices to meet with local schools boards to assess terrorist threats.
According to the Daily Wire report, the father actually attended the meeting to oppose the proposed transgender bathroom policy because a bisexual student allegedly raped his daughter in a school bathroom. The legal system was involved, and the district transferred the male student to another school, where he allegedly assaulted a second girl.
The leftward lurch of Virginia’s public education system was elevated to the national spotlight as an example of unchecked activism among school board members and district staff. Now, an education advocacy group focused on removing politicized content and activism from the classroom is capitalizing on the backlash from parents. New polling shows McAuliffe and Youngkin in a dead heat as the debate over education becomes more intense.
Free to Learn Action believes American schools should return to an academic focus, emphasizing reading, writing, math, and science knowledge and skills. The group also promotes parental involvement. Beginning Friday, they will launch a $1 million ad campaign highlighting the consequences of allowing political agendas to dominate the discussion at the expense of education quality.
The ad will air on television stations throughout the state, including cable channels. The group hopes to shine a light on policies that would silence parents. Alleigh Marré, president of FTL Action, said, “Holding public officials accountable for their actions is crucial. By working alongside parents and shining the spotlight on this abhorrent behavior, we want parents to know they are not alone. We have your back and we will work tirelessly to see all children succeed in the classroom.”
The ad intentionally highlights the devastating consequences of allowing partisan political agendas to seep into schools. The ad includes McAuliffe’s statement from the debate and highlights falling standardized test scores throughout the state. “The fact that many parents no longer feel like their child is entrusted to a safe school environment erodes the most basic expectation between a parent and the education system,” said Marré. “We cannot allow this to continue. The safety and future of our children is at stake.”
The face-off over the education of our children in Virginia is occurring as an increasing number of parents are selecting other options. Homeschooling rates have increased along with charter and private school enrollments. California schools are seeing enrollment drops that could affect school district budgets. Los Angeles Unified, the largest school district in the state, has lost more than 27,000 students since the beginning of the 2020 school year. That equals approximately 6% of their enrollment. Statewide, the loss is 3%. West Contra Costa County anticipates a $30 million funding loss under the state’s current formula.
The Virginia election may well signal that Democrats are in big trouble in 2022 if McAuliffe loses. However, it is also a referendum on the current status of K-12 education throughout the nation.