Politics & Policy

Elect Glenn Youngkin Virginia’s Governor for Our Kids

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks during a campaign event in McLean, Va., July 14, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
Youngkin wants a public-school system that works for parents. Terry McAuliffe wants one that works for teachers’ unions. This is a no-brainer.

In Virginia’s gubernatorial election this November, I’ll be a single-issue voter: I’ll back the candidate who demonstrates that he’s on the side of parents and not big-money special interests when it comes to schools. I’ll back Glenn Youngkin.

At this week’s debate between Youngkin and former governor Terry McAuliffe, McAuliffe said plainly, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach kids,” expressing an attitude toward involved parents that is crippling Virginia’s potential.

Nobody is suggesting that schools should teach students the Earth is flat if someone demands they do so. But Virginia’s public-school curricula need to be more accountable to the community than they are today, and that problem will only grow worse under four more years of McAuliffe.

Virginia’s children have suffered greatly, and disproportionately, these past two years. Virginia ranked 43rd among the 50 states in the amount of in-class instruction its public-school students received during the 2020–2021 school year. The two groups largely responsible for this tragic failure are the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), the two largest teachers’ unions in the nation. The AFT and the NEA have put up roadblocks in front of children at every opportunity during this pandemic, including manipulating the CDC guidance that school systems sadly relied on to make their health, safety, and reopening decisions.

This is the modus operandi for these unions: They take a chunk of cash out of teacher paychecks that they claim are too small and give that money to politicians, who then cut back-room deals that sustain their profitable role in the system at the expense of parents and students. McAuliffe, Youngkin’s Democratic opponent, is one of those politicians. He has taken well over a quarter of a million dollars from the AFT and the NEA alone. A vote for him is a vote for AFT head Randi Weingarten and NEA head Becky Pringle to keep Virginia’s children behind most of their peers in other states for four more years.

I believe in good public schools for Virginia. I want teachers to be rewarded on merit and our public schools to be a national model, rather than the embarrassment they’ve recently been. I want my kids to attend and graduate from them. But Terry McAuliffe and his friend, Governor Ralph Northam, have emboldened the union-dominated system that is failing our children.

McAuliffe sent his children to very expensive private schools, and no one should begrudge him that choice. Private schools are attractive; they offer accountability to the parents who pay their bills. What is detestable, though, is McAuliffe’s disdain for lower-income families who want that same level of accountability from their children’s public schools. The economic inequality that exists in America comes in part from the gap between rich elites such as McAuliffe, who can afford to have real choice in their kids’ educations, and working parents who are stuck with a public-school system that views them as a nuisance.

Public-school enrollment is declining dramatically in Virginia, but likely not as much as it would be if more parents had access to other options. Student test scores are plummeting. The learning loss from a year without in-person instruction has been significant. And McAuliffe, Northam, and their powerful union donors don’t want to do anything to change this status quo. The unions fought against adding more hours to summer school this year. They will block anything that means more focus on children and less focus on building bureaucratic regimes that further hamper parents’ ability to hold the system accountable.

Glenn Youngkin is on the side of parents. His Department of Education will produce the type of oversight that has been missing under Northam and McAuliffe, who barely spoke a word about closed schools for 18 months.

McAuliffe’s entire campaign is built on the premise that Youngkin is a Trump clone. If that were true, Youngkin wouldn’t get my vote. I’ve been as dismayed as anyone at the extreme course the Republican Party has taken over the past five years. But I believe Youngkin is the type of Republican who can alter that course: a pragmatic leader who will work across the aisle and appreciate the changing dynamics of our commonwealth.

One of the amazing things about the parental advocacy of the past two years is that it has been broadly non-partisan. Democratic, Republican, and independent parents alike have worked together to help their children while incompetent school boards and administrators stood in the way. Youngkin will embrace that communal spirit; under McAuliffe, the education of our kids will remain an utterly partisan affair.

The right choice is clear: We need to send Glenn Youngkin to Richmond for our kids.

Rory Cooper is a former adviser to House majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.). He lives and works in Fairfax County, Va., where he has three children in elementary school.

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