AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
Last Thursday, just days before the end of the legislative session, Democrats in the Virginia State Senate succeeded in blocking several Republican-sponsored education bills that would have delivered on Governor Glenn Youngkin’s vision for education reform in the state.
After Youngkin and a Republican majority in the House of Delegates were swept into power last year with a clear mandate from voters to overhaul education policy in Virginia, Senate Democrats’ stubborn refusal to even consider the legislation underscores how battles over parents’ rights and education are far from over, even in places like Virginia that have seen fierce voter backlash to Democrat policies in recent elections.
While the governor’s mansion and control of the House of Delegates were both up for grabs in Virginia last year, control of the state senate was not. After Democrats retained control of the chamber in 2019, they were assured power until at least 2023, the next state senate election. That soon proved to be bad news for Youngkin and House Republicans, as Democrat Louise Lucas, the President Pro Tempore of the senate and a longtime thorn in the side of Republicans, promised that her party would be a “brick wall” and work to obstruct Republicans’ agenda.
In practice, that pledge has translated into Democrats in the senate killing nearly every piece of legislation forwarded by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, even bills that seemingly should hold bipartisan appeal. On no issue has this strategy been more obvious than education, where Lucas has worked at every turn to stymie Republican reforms.
In just one meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee last week – chaired by none other than Ms. Lucas – Democrats killed six Republican bills aimed at putting parents and students back in charge of education.
In a press release that attempted to explain why they blocked the legislation, senate Democrats claimed that the bills “attempt to strip away public school funding, endanger the safety of our students, and implement policies that divide our children.” However, that explanation does not appear to square with the actual text of the legislation in question.
For example, one of the bills Democrats blocked Thursday was HB787, one of several Republican bills to ban divisive concepts like Critical Race Theory from classrooms. The legislation would have made it unlawful for “any local school board or employee or contractor” to promote in public schools beliefs like “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive,” or that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex.” Even though the text of the bill explicitly bans concepts that divide students against one another, Democrats allege that it is Republican policies that are divisive.
Another anti-indoctrination bill, HB1093, would have required that school boards seek input from their communities before requiring teachers to undergo so-called “cultural competence training.” Calls for such a bill arose in part after former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam last year signed into law a bill that required teachers to pass a “cultural competence test” in order to renew their license. As some commentators have noted, “cultural competence” has become one of the many code words for forcing teachers to comply with woke political ideologies that have nothing to do with performing their duties as teachers. In the case of the Virginia law, what exactly makes a teacher culturally competent was never defined, and it was left up to the unelected state Board of Education to decide which views were acceptable for teachers to hold and which were not.
But Democrat opposition to Republican reforms didn’t stop with the hot-button topic of Critical Race Theory and political indoctrination in classrooms. In addition, Democrats also killed legislation that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of mandatory vaccines on religious grounds, required parental consent for students to receive counseling in schools, allowed homeschool students to participate in public school athletics, and empowered parents with more control over their children’s education through school choice.
You read that right – Democrats in the Virginia State Senate argued that allowing homeschool kids to play team sports and compete for their community (where their parents still pay taxes to fund public school athletics) amounts to an attempt to “strip away public school funding.” Moreover, they assert that ensuring parents are in-the-know if their children need or are receiving mental health treatment constitutes “endangering the safety of our students.”
With the legislative session coming to an end this week, Republicans have little hope of getting any education bills to Youngkin’s desk before the end of the year. Although Youngkin has signed several executive orders dealing with education, such as one banning divisive concepts like Critical Race Theory, the reality is that Republicans need to pass legislation that codifies his reforms if they hope to create any lasting change in state policy.
That means that next year’s state midterm elections are all the more important for long-suffering Virginia Republicans. With Democrats holding just a two-seat edge in the state senate, a strong showing would give the GOP a good shot of attaining a governing trifecta for the first time since 2013. By opposing Youngkin’s push for parents’ rights, Democrats in the state senate may only be giving a further boost to Republicans’ chances, dooming themselves to long-term electoral failures in service of blocking Republicans’ agenda in the short term.
Conservatives may also find opportunities to install allies to Youngkin’s education agenda in local elections this year. Loudoun County, Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach – four of the largest districts in the state – all have school board elections this November, another opportunity for voters to make their voices heard. Out of 36 total seats on those school boards, 18 are up for grabs, with a number of vulnerable incumbents.
Despite a number of high-profile victories, the battle for the future of education – in both Virginia and the nation – is far from over. Although voters in liberal and conservative areas alike have made clear that they want woke ideologies and partisan influence out of schools, Democrats appear as determined as ever to preserve classrooms as indoctrination chambers dedicated to creating future generations of progressive activists. For Republicans, fighting against this agenda will remain pivotal – both for their own electoral prospects and for the future of the country.
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