Bitter lessons in Youngkin’s education policy

A recent trip to the New York homestead that included a visit with a boyhood pal on easternmost Long Island ended with a rude awakening:

That where I had gone in July to get away from it all is where Gov. Glenn Youngkin — the Fox News Presidential Flavor of the Month — is going in August to again lard his political treasury with big bucks from fellow plutocrats.

This time, the Republican will do so at a party thrown by Wilbur Ross, the Trump commerce secretary who avoided federal prosecution for misleading Congress about trying to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. It could have dampened minority participation in the head count, possibly diminishing Democratic representation in state legislatures and Congress.

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Politics — more oriented to policy than personality — intruded on the vacation, too: what other states offer as other options to public education.

Alternatives to the traditional classroom are a big deal for Youngkin, narrowly elected in 2021, pledging to stir school kids from their COVID-19-era — distance-learning stupor that, he suggested, was a consequence of the nanny state approach to pandemic management of Democrat Ralph Northam.

Among the options pressed by Youngkin and thwarted by Democrats in Virginia’s divided General Assembly was steering to families public dollars they could spend on private school tuition and supplies for home schoolers.

The beef with such an idea — beyond cutting dollars to public schools, which the General Assembly’s investigative arm, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, said were shorted an eye-popping $6.6 billion because of an outdated funding formula — diminishes accountability in education spending.

For troubling evidence of this, one need only to travel to New York City, where some Democrats, most notably Mayor Eric Adams — for purposes of preserving the votes of a crucial, disciplined slice of the electorate — have forged an unholy political alliance with rigorously devout Hasidic Jews, who educate their children in religious schools, known as yeshivas, that share with other nonpublic schools about $320 million a year in aid from New York State.

Concluding an eight-year investigation, New York City found that nearly 20 yeshivas had violated state law by failing to provide students with an adequate secular education.

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These schools — among 200 yeshivas statewide, resistant to public oversight despite public largesse — were found to have put religious lessons in Yiddish, the preferred tongue of the Hasidim, ahead of instruction in English, mathematics, history, science and other secular subjects. Further, teachers at these academies often showed little mastery of these subjects.

Should state education officials uphold the findings — The New York Times reports that is likely — the schools would have to submit detailed plans for secular lessons and submit to government oversight. It is unclear whether the yeshivas risk penalties for not complying with New York education law.

The larger story about the New York City yeshivas — and the lesson for Virginia — is how the lack of accountability disrupts education.

Youngkin — sheathing his approach to education in an ear-pleasing catch phrase, “parents’ rights” — would tell you his school policies are all about accountability, though it seems he is most accountable to a minority that stands out because theirs is the loudest voice in the room.

Plus, the governor appears to consider existing state law a hindrance — one his administration may be ignoring — to begin opening so-called laboratory schools, publicly financed alternatives to traditional schools managed by colleges and universities.

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Never mind that there are only an estimated 4,000 transgender kids among the 1.2 million students enrolled in Virginia public schools, Youngkin — now with a hand-picked majority on the State Board of Education — wants local schools to adopt rules that require students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their biological sex. The regulations also create bureaucratic obstacles to those who want to change at school their name or pronouns.

School for many trans students may be a far safer place — emotionally, intellectually and physically — than home. The Youngkin approach, in effect, overlooks that and the concept of in loco parentis — that teachers and administrators have a responsibility, rooted in law, to act in a student’s best interest.

That means looking out for a student’s health and welfare, especially if that child is isolated, alienated or abused because of gender identity. Northam-era guidelines addressed such concerns, but they were junked by Youngkin.

Language in the state budget made clear that no public funds would be available to private colleges and universities to operate laboratory schools, which are free to set their own spending and academic programs. The restriction, however, has not stopped the administration from issuing planning grants to four private schools.

The reflexively Democratic teachers’ union, the Virginia Education Association, is complaining about the grants to the state’s chief accountant, who works for the legislature, not the governor. In Youngkin World, whose inhabitants are ex-corporate types who look on the protocols of government as a nuisance, probably consider such grousing as validation of their views.

In some respects, it is akin to the supposed intolerance and impatience that Youngkin alleges woke lefties use to silence the right, especially in higher education, and which the governor vows to counter by loading up college and university oversight boards with conservatives who peddle their own brand of intolerance and impatience.

Of course, that is not how the Youngkin administration sees it.

In a speech in March to the conservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Education Secretary Aimee Guidera seemed to lump Virginia Senate Democrats with “Marxists” for kicking a Youngkin appointee off the State Board of Education for challenging the controversial admissions policy of an elite, diverse public high school in Northern Virginia.

Such political friction notwithstanding, Guidera said the heads of Virginia’s public colleges and universities get along swimmingly with Youngkin, adding — in a telling slip — “they’ve never had this much time with their president — their governor.”


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