Glenn Youngkin and the Democrats' education problem

It was this sense of control that Youngkin promised to restore to exhausted parents. After COVID-19 shuttered schools in the spring of 2020, Virginia left individual districts to make their own decisions about whether and how to reopen. Most rural districts did so that fall, but the urban and suburban districts that house most of the state’s population did not. In suburban Fairfax County—one of the country’s largest districts, with nearly 200,000 students—schools remained virtual until the spring of 2021, when they reopened for just two days per week of in-person instruction. The county’s teachers union successfully lobbied for teachers to be first in line for the COVID-19 vaccines—and still refused to come back to the classroom once they became available.

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The school closures upended families and careers. Yet the Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, largely declined to weigh in, citing a preference for local autonomy. (Republicans charged it had more to do with not wanting to take on the teachers unions, an important component of the Democrats’ funding base.) Most local governments also punted, leaving school boards—generally part-time panels of little-known local activists—to handle some of the pandemic’s most difficult decisions.

The forced homeschooling that resulted in districts that went virtual also gave parents greater visibility into their kids’ classroom experience. And it coincided with school systems’ ongoing struggle to respond to issues of racial and gender identity. “Families were not okay with what had been happening in our schools over the past few years, and parents weren’t okay with the lack of options during COVID for their kids,” Coyner tells me. “When parents had to have virtual school in their homes, it opened their eyes to what was really happening in the classroom, and what wasn’t.”

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