The legislative session is over halfway through. How are Youngkin’s education proposals faring?
Editor's note: This story was updated Feb. 24 at 7:38 p.m.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned heavily on giving parents more say in their children’s education. He also promised to give parents more educational options and require police in all K-12 schools.
Now that the deadline for lawmakers from each chamber to consider new bills has passed, we’re taking a look at how his promises have fared in the politically divided legislature. Several of these proposals will likely meet their final fate in a Senate education committee meeting next Thursday morning.
One Youngkin campaign video featured a Loudoun County parent who was upset over a book her high school senior was reading in an Advanced Placement literature class, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” This same parent worked with lawmakers in 2016 to pass legislation giving parents the right to opt their children out of sexually explicit reading assignments.
Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the bill, but lawmakers in both chambers have voted to support similar legislation this year. As currently drafted, it would require all local school boards to adopt policies developed by the Virginia Department of Education ensuring parental notification of any instructional material that includes sexually explicit content.
Another content-specific piece of legislation championed by Youngkin and his team to prohibit the use of “curricula and instruction including inherently divisive concepts” hasn’t made it to the floor in either the GOP-controlled House or Democrat-controlled Senate. A similar bill narrowly cleared the House of Delegates but was recommended to be struck down by a Senate committee Thursday.
Legislation that seeks to prohibit geographic-based approaches to student admission at governors’ schools to increase student diversity – currently allowed under federal law – narrowly passed the House of Delegates on a party-line vote, but a Senate committee recommended not advancing the bill Thursday night.
Another piece of legislation backed by Youngkin would require the state Board of Education to make recommendations to lawmakers about an array of goals including increasing the number of academic year governor’s schools, increasing the rigor of state testing standards compared to other states and preserving the Advanced Studies Diploma as an option for students. A Senate committee struck this legislation down, though it passed unanimously in the House of Delegates.
A primary pillar of Youngkin’s campaign was to increase the number of charter schools in Virginia. Virginia has one of the strictest charter school laws in the country and currently only allows public school boards to approve them.
The Democrat-controlled Senate struck down more than one proposal to allow the state board of education to authorize charters, including one specific to regional charters.
Meanwhile, a different approach to school choice – also part of Youngkin’s day-one legislative agenda – has received bipartisan support. It would modify an already-existing law that allows Virginia colleges and universities to run lab schools, public schools with a specific curricular focus. But there are still substantial differences in the House and Senate lab schools proposals; on Thursday, a Senate committee failed to advance the House version in its current format.
Police presence in schools
During his State of the Commonwealth address, Youngkin said he was asking lawmakers to “prioritize school safety…by putting a school resource officer on every campus,” despite mixed research on the impacts of police in schools. Most Virginia middle and high schools already have police, and Youngkin-backed legislation to mandate their presence in every school – including elementary schools – failed to clear the Democrat-controlled Senate. A Senate committee recommended striking down the House version of the bill Thursday night.
Legislation to require school principals to report all misdemeanor-equivalent offenses to law enforcement – including the possession of alcohol and marijuana – has garnered support from both the House and Senate. This legislation essentially repeals legislation passed in 2020 to give principals discretion when determining whether or not to report misdemeanors to law enforcement.
Another Youngkin-backed bill to require school safety audits to be conducted in collaboration with local law enforcement chiefs has garnered unanimous support in the Senate and House.