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Friday, November 5, 2021

Virginia Voters Make It Clear: Parents Matter

The Virginia gubernatorial election is just the latest example of how parents are reclaiming their power nationwide.

Image Credit: Bluedreamer2011 - Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Voters in Virginia sent a resounding message on Tuesday: don’t mess with parents.

Parents have had enough of politicians and media outlets trying to sideline families, and they’re taking back control of their children’s education. The favorite in this week’s Virginia gubernatorial election, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, infamously said in a debate that he doesn’t “think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Yet after a surprise victory, the “parents matter” slogan of his victorious Republican rival, Glenn Youngkin, may become a national rallying cry in the months to come.

But the backlash has been brutal.

An MSNBC article on Wednesday stated that a “contingent of angry, willfully ignorant white people was the key ingredient needed to elect a GOP governor in Virginia for the first time since 2009.” Yet the article completely dismisses the fact that these purportedly “ignorant white people” at the same time also voted in as lieutenant governor the commonwealth’s first African American woman ever elected to statewide office, as well as a Latino attorney general.

Far from being ignorant, AP VoteCast survey data released this week reveal that many of the Virginia voters who elected Youngkin are highly educated. And, at least according to preliminary exit polls, more Latinos favored the Republican than his Democratic contender. What many of these voters have in common is a disdain for politicians who insult parents and seek to silence them.

Over the past several months, Virginia parents have been concerned about various education policies being proposed or implemented in the state’s public schools. In June, a contentious school board meeting in Loudon County over critical race theory curriculum ended with an arrest. And in August, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against Loudon County Public Schools after they fired a gym teacher who refused to refer to transgender students by their chosen pronouns.

Rather than listening to and respecting parents’ curriculum concerns and desire for schools to concentrate on reading, writing, and arithmetic over identity, politicians such as McAuliffe offend and alienate parents. Parents in Virginia voiced their discontent at the ballot box. Other parents may now feel more emboldened to speak out against the divisive ideology and controversial practices seeping into schools across the country.

Parents Reclaim Their Power

Ashley Jacobs, founder and executive director of the Massachusetts-based non-profit advocacy group, Parents Unite, thinks the Virginia gubernatorial election will be a catalyst for parent-driven change.

“Parents won a decisive victory in Virginia,” she told me this week. “Voters went to the polls and told big government they deserve a voice in their children’s education. Parents around the country should feel empowered knowing that they can and should demand accountability of our schools and administrators, and, if they stand together, those voices will be heard.”

Jacobs and her partners launched the organization earlier this year to apply pressure to independent school accrediting agencies that were also being swept up into the dogma of critical race theory and related policies.

“There’s an undercurrent of ideology, largely focused around identity, that has infected all classrooms, public and private,” she told me. The group held its “Diversity of Thought In K-12 Education” conference in Boston last month that brought together parents, educators, and others concerned about the direction in which many schools have been heading.

I presented at the conference about the impact of the coronavirus response on education, including the exodus of families away from government-run schools toward private education options. I also explained how heightened parent demand for schooling alternatives is leading to a flurry of education entrepreneurship and innovation.

Jacobs thinks this is a crucial component of the current educational shift being felt nationwide.

“I’m hoping we’re seeing the rise of consumer-driven education as opposed to government-driven education,” she told me. “Parents are the consumers of education on behalf of their children and they deserve to have choices and transparency.”

Unleashing the free market in education will loosen the government’s grip on education and expand learning options for families. Part of this expansion may come in the form of school choice policies that have been introduced or broadened in many states over the past year, as parents and taxpayers seek more control over education dollars. FEE’s Hannah Cox wrote this week that the Virginia governor’s race shows that school choice has now taken center stage as a campaign issue, and parents are paying attention.

Yet school choice policies are only one factor in enabling more education options for families. Placing greater trust in the free market than in government bureaucrats will accelerate the proliferation of education choices and spark innovation. Government-run schools and the politicians who support them have lost the trust of many parents who saw first-hand what was happening in their children’s classrooms through remote “Zoom school,” and have been disillusioned by teachers’ union antics and the push for identity-based curriculum frameworks.

Now it’s time for these parents to put their trust in the free market, and watch their education options multiply and diversify just as they do in all other consumer-driven areas of our lives. Education is too important to be left to the government.

As FEE’s founder Leonard Read wrote in his 1964 essay on education and the free market: “Who is the appropriate ruler of your educational pro­gram? You? Or others? Or a political committee which cannot be better than the lowest common denominator of others? The free market way relies not on one judg­ment for the millions but on mil­lions of individual judgments.”

Millions of individual parents are waking up to what is happening in their children’s schools and are taking back control of their children’s education from politicians and government bureaucrats. The Virginia gubernatorial election is just the latest example of how parents are reclaiming their power nationwide.