Virginia is the bellwether for education policy in 2022
My name is Chuck Corra and I joined the 50x2026 coalition in September 2021 on behalf of Generation Citizen after joining the organization as their new Associate Director of Coalitions & Policy Research. I am currently based out of Virginia but spent several years in policy and organizing in Tennessee, Michigan, and West Virginia. Civics has been a passion of mine since high school, where I was fortunate enough to have several teachers that encouraged me to dig deeper on issues I cared about and learn more about my local government. I am so excited to be advocating for experiential civics because it not just because it helps students truly learn the democratic process firsthand, but because it fosters the love, respect, and appreciation for your community that is necessary to help it thrive.
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.
The policy changes to civics education — and education more broadly — in Virginia this year are indicative of larger trends throughout the country. Virginia could very well be a political weather balloon for gauging how moves like banning critical race theory and prohibiting the teaching of divisive topics in a state with divided government fares with the public, providing a potential roadmap for 2022 midterm campaign strategy.
In light of this, we’ve provided an update on important new developments in the commonwealth that impact education policy and legislation throughout the states that mirror these trends.
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.
Former Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction appointed to lead Virginia public education
- 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.
Signed executive order rescinding statewide mask mandate for public school students
- 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.
We’ve included some examples below of other states where lawmakers are attempting to pass various forms of censorship legislation. Though this list is not comprehensive, it gives a pretty clear indication that these efforts are spread throughout the country.