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Fact Sheet: Democrats Are the Real “Education Party”

Democrats have worked to improve public schools and have proposed policies to further strengthen them. Under Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, Virginia reoriented Virginia’s public education system to provide students with a wide range of knowledge and skills that will enable them to find rewarding jobs throughout their working lives. The approach includes strong emphasis on early childhood education; a focus on developing critical and creative thinking; an updated curriculum for higher grades, including expanded coverage of Black history; and wider access to affordable community college programs. This approach also includes measures to attract and retain good teachers, including pay raises. President Biden’s 2024 budget includes substantial additional funding for special education programs and universal, nationwide pre-K education for four-year-olds through a federal-state partnership.

Republicans across the country are engaged in a broad assault on public education. In Florida, they are replacing the traditional curriculum with extremist indoctrination. In Virginia and elsewhere, they are injecting culture wars into classrooms while weakening the quality of educational programs. Over the past several decades Republicans have proposed abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, a critical source of funding for at-risk schools nationwide and of loans for students who lack enough in savings to cover college tuition. In Virginia, Republicans are rejecting a Democratic proposal to allot some of the state’s $5 billion surplus to long-underfunded K-12 public schools; Republicans want instead to use the money to expand tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations. In Florida, Republicans support expansion of a voucher program that already diverts over $1 billion annually from public to private schools.

Republicans have described their policies as protecting parents’ rights, but the only parental interests they protect are those of the minority of parents who agree with them. If Republicans capture the Virginia Senate and retain control of the Virginia House of Delegates this November, they, together with Governor Youngkin, would likely adopt in Virginia the changes recently implemented in Florida. Parents who want their children to have a broad range of books available in their school libraries would be out of luck. (Book banning has already begun in some Republican-controlled Virginia counties.) Parents who want their children to learn to treat people of all ethnic backgrounds and sexual identities with respect would be overruled by radical, partisan school districts.

Tragically, parents who want their children to learn the full story of American history – with all its noble ideals and disastrous failures, and with its continuing inability to achieve those ideals – would find that story suppressed. Florida law now requires teachers to imply that slavery was actually good for enslaved people – that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” In a forceful speech, Vice-President Kamala Harris replied,

Adults know what slavery really involved. It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby from their mother, . . . . ow is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization? . . .

The new Florida Academic Standards do not mention that in many slave-holding states, it was a crime to teach an enslaved person to read or write.

Governor Youngkin has not been in a position to impose similar academic “standards” in Virginia, but his sympathies are clear: on his first day in office, he banned the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts.” By this he meant anything that could be the basis for criticizing something that White people had done and thereby potentially making White students feel uncomfortable. The potential discomfort of Black children was not considered. Nor was there any consideration of the actual facts, of providing all students with an accurate understanding of their history. If Republicans take control of the Virginia legislature this fall, we can expect prompt adoption of Florida-style restrictions in Virginia’s schools.

What can you do to help protect public education in Virginia? Plan to devote all of the time you can muster during the upcoming campaign season to knock on doors, make phone calls to voters and help elect Democrats throughout the state. Don’t let Virginia become Florida.

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