After nearly a year into his Virginia governorship, Glenn Youngkin kept his education promises. Since his inauguration, Youngkin has passed a substantial education budget providing raises for teachers, taken steps to ban critical race theory, and empowered parents. His accomplishments have garnered massive support from the GOP both in Virginia and nationwide.
Lexi Lonas; October 11, 2022
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) wasted no time in fulfilling his education campaign promises after he was elected to office.
Since his inauguration earlier this year, Youngkin’s administration saw the passage of a substantial education budget; the governor signed the Virginia Literacy Act and executive orders banning critical race theory; and the Virginia Board of Education released new “model policies” retracting accommodations for transgender students.
The actions represent policy wins on issues that are popular among the broader GOP.
Experts say his performance could make him a standout in the leadup to the 2024 presidential election, where making good on campaign promises could give him an extra boost.
Youngkin’s victory last year made him the first Republican elected to a statewide office in Virginia since 2009. The businessman-turned-politician made education and parents’ role in their children’s education a key issue on the campaign trail, resonating with suburban and independent voters.
The 55-year-old governor was able to harness interest in national education topics such as critical race theory, mask mandates and LGBT issues during his campaign.
“The governor ran on and was elected on his premise of empowering parents and restoring excellence in education. Since being elected, he’s been delivering on it since day one,” an official with Youngkin’s office told The Hill.
Youngkin signed orders to make masks optional in all schools, directed schools to ban lessons that were “inherently divisive” and ordered an investigation into the Loudoun County school district after it gained national attention for an alleged case of sexual assault.
The early actions taken by the commonwealth’s governor mirror those of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is up for reelection and is widely viewed as a top potential GOP presidential contender in 2024.
DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill and legislation that would ban transgender students from participating on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.
In late September, the Virginia Board of Education released an updated set of model policies mapping out the treatment of transgender students in schools, from use of names and pronouns to the use of bathrooms and sex-designated school facilities.
These policies have garnered backlash from Virginia Democrats and even high school students in the state who’ve staged walkouts in protest.
But some bipartisanship has also been found in Virginia, following the passage of an extensive education budget back in April.
The Youngkin official praised the bipartisan work on the budget, highlighting teacher pay raises, money for school resource officers and school safety, $100 million to lab schools and school construction.
Gianni Snidle, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, described the most recent education budget to The Hill as “historic” but doesn’t believe the governor deserves the credit for it.
“We did end up passing a historic education budget, but that was due to Senate Democrats efforts, not Governor Youngkin,” Snidle said, adding Republicans only got on board with the teacher pay raises after Democrats proposed it.
Still, Youngkin’s policy wins have made him popular among Republicans in his state and have grabbed the attention of the GOP nationwide.
Veteran Republican strategist Doug Heye told The Hill that following through on campaign promises can often be a “rare thing” in politics.
“He’s following up on promises that he made, which in politics sometimes can be a rare thing. And it’s why you see he has a net approval rating in the state and more and more Republicans are wanting him on the campaign trail in these closing weeks of the campaign,” Heye said.
Youngkin has made the rounds during his short time in office, campaigning for fellow Republicans like Maine gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage. He’s also campaigned for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who is seeking reelection this year.
This type of popularity can be useful for a presidential bid.
“The best way to do this is talk about [education issues] in the context of delivering on promises. If you’re running for president, obviously we don’t know that he is, different issues react differently in primary states and things like that. But if he’s able to talk about how he’s delivered and continues to deliver on promises he made, he’s on good footing,” Heye said.
But for now, Youngkin has waved off questions about a potential 2024 presidential run. The Youngkin official told The Hill the governor is focused on keeping his education promises in office.
“He’s focused on delivering for Virginians, and empowering parents and focusing on education and restoring excellence will always be some of his key priorities,” the official said.
But even Democrats say that the Republican’s efforts in office indicate that he has lofty political ambitions.
Snidle said he has “no doubt” Youngkin has 2024 ambitions.
“I think right now everything that Youngkin is doing is through the lens that he is running [in] 2024. There’s no doubt about it,” Snidle said. “The far-right policies that he’s trying to push in Virginia … Virginians don’t want that, but it works for his MAGA Republican base. He has to show them that if he wants to be the nominee, he’s going to cater to them and that’s what he’s doing here.”
The next challenge Youngkin will have to face in education in Virginia is the ever-growing teacher shortage that is plaguing the country.
While Youngkin has proposed a plan to make licensure for teaching in Virginia more flexible to make it easier for out-of-state teachers and retirees to help fill the void, Democrats and the Virginia Education Association (VEA) have said it is not enough.
“We have a teacher shortage because of Governor Youngkin and Republicans attacking our public schools. Our teachers, they get harassed,” Snidle said.
The VEA said at the time of Youngkin’s proposal that they can get behind some of his plan but that there is more he needs to do to help alleviate the shortage of teachers.
“Our current budget surplus could be used effectively to solve this problem, which affects all Virginia’s citizens. By what he decides to do with those funds, our governor will show us if he truly values education and solving our teacher shortages,” VEA President James J. Fedderman said.
Photo: Greg Nash