Virginia is the bellwether for education policy in 2022

Analyzing the education policy landscape in Virginia

The policy landscape is evolving rapidly as states ramp up their legislative sessions throughout the country. Education policy specifically is taking center stage as topics like critical race theory and content moderation in the classroom continue to draw attention and scrutiny. At the center of this is Virginia. Republicans regained control of the Virginia house of delegates and governor’s office last year, changing the political dynamic of the state. This situation presents an opportunity to pass comprehensive experiential civics in the commonwealth.

Virginia State Capitol (via Wikimedia commons)

Key appointments

Former President of Heritage Foundation appointed Sec. of Commonwealth

  • Incoming governor Glenn Youngkin appointed Kay Coles James as Secretary of the Commonwealth — an influential member of the governor’s cabinet who assists with appointments, among other responsibilities. James is the former president of the Heritage Foundation — an organization highly critical of experiential civics education. James is a very influential leader within the republican party establishment and the conservative movement more widely.
  • Youngkin has also appointed Jillian Balow as Superintendent of Public Instruction. Balow previously served as Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction, where she supported an anti-critical race theory bill, citing her belief that teaching it amounted to indoctrination.”

Actions by Governor Youngkin

Signed executive order “ending the use of inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory”

  • Youngkin campaigned heavily on a promise to ban critical race theory in Virginia if elected — despite it not being mentioned anywhere in the Virginia Department of Education’s curriculum — and fulfilled this promise via executive order on his first day in office, though it is expected to face legal and political challenges.
  • Youngkin also signed an executive order rescinding the statewide mask mandates for public schools, allowing parents to exempt students from local school system mandates. Lawsuits have already been filed by local school districts challenging the governor’s authority to enforce this measure.

Proposed legislation in Virginia

Charging teachers with a misdemeanor for teaching “divisive concepts”

  • Republican Delegate Wren Williams introduced a bill to prohibit the teaching of “divisive concepts” — which are defined in the bill but contain a heavy focus on racism — and allowing those violating it to be charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor and have their license revoked. This is indicative of an ongoing trend nationwide that mirrors the discussion around banning critical race theory and broadens that net to include other topics that address racism and its history.

State Legislature round-up

Efforts in Virginia to ban critical race theory and restrict the teaching of “divisive topics” are hardly unique to the commonwealth — they actually reflect a broader trend nationwide among republicans in state legislatures.

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50x2026

50x2026

50x2026 is a national initiative to elevate civics education policy, in every state, by 2026 — the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.