Youngkin Makes the GOP the Parents’ Party

Democrats squander their traditional advantage on education, and he finds a way to capitalize on it.

Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s come-from-behind victory was powered by parents. Concerns about what is being taught in Virginia’s schools—and how it is being taught—galvanized support for Mr. Youngkin. His success offers Republicans a road map to become the parents’ party.

Marie Mierzejewski, 40, entrusted her kids to the Albemarle County schools near Charlottesville because they had a reputation for excellence in “the basics, like reading, writing and arithmetic.” This spring, the county veered in a different direction with a new curriculum: “Courageous Conversations About Race.” Drawing heavily on the ideas of Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” and peppered with words like “cisgender,” “white privilege,” and “non-Christian folx [sic],” the lessons encouraged children to view themselves through the prisms of race, gender, sexuality and class.

Ms. Mierzejewski was uncomfortable with the new curriculum’s overt left-wing agenda. She was also frustrated because “teaching these critical-race-theory and equity lessons seemed far more important than catching all these kids up in their academics.”

Ms. Mierzejewski and dozens of other parents in the county tried and failed to get the county schools to focus again on the three Rs, so they looked elsewhere for relief. Many embraced Mr. Youngkin, a Republican former businessman, as their champion. Their support was turbocharged when Mr. McAuliffe scoffed at their concerns during a debate. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” the Democratic former governor said. Mr. Youngkin’s popularity surged among voters who said education was their biggest issue. These voters preferred Mr. McAuliffe by a margin of 33 percentage points in September. By Election Day they preferred Mr. Youngkin by 9 points.

Virginia’s “red shift” on education could be part of a broader trend. A majority of Republicans 18 to 55 are parents (61%), whereas only a minority of Democrats are (45%), according to a recent YouGov poll for the Institute for Family Studies/Wheatley Institution.

Ms. Mierzejewski has high hopes for Mr. Youngkin. She wants him to “stop all this distracting and divisive teaching” and “get schools back to the important basics.” Mr. Youngkin has an opportunity to capitalize on public-school failures.

While governors don’t directly set curriculum, Mr. Youngkin can empower parents like Ms. Mierzejewski by reforming the state’s Education Department. Mr. McAuliffe insisted that critical race theory wasn’t being taught in schools, even though the department during his governorship (2014-18) encouraged school districts to “embrace critical race theory.” Virginia’s current governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, said that “critical race theory is a dog whistle that Republicans are using to frighten people” even as his Education Department hosted an “equity” speaker who has declared that white teachers are “spirit murdering Black and Brown children” and called for them to undergo therapy for “White emotionalities.” Mr. Youngkin could take a stand on behalf of parents against this systemic gaslighting by launching a blue-ribbon commission to evaluate how CRT has affected state policy and school curriculum, as well as by having the Education Department jettison CRT and encourage schools to refocus on the basics.

Mr. Youngkin should also champion “academic transparency,” a proposal gaining traction across America. Parents in Virginia should never be asked, as parents in Loudoun County were, to sign nondisclosure agreements before being permitted to review school curriculum. That information should be made readily available to parents online. When it comes to particularly controversial curriculums involving race, sex and gender, Mr. Youngkin could take inspiration from Ohio’s Parents Right to Know Act by requiring full parental curricular review and opt-in—rather than merely the traditional notice for opt-out.

Mr. Youngkin’s campaign caught fire after the revelation that a male student who sexually assaulted a young women in a girls bathroom had been transferred to a new school, where he allegedly assaulted another young woman. The Loudoun school superintendent at first publicly denied that an assault had occurred. Follow-up reporting by the Daily Wire website demonstrated that the school district failed to report past instances of sexual assault to the state Education Department.

Underreporting and nonreporting of bullying, violence and sexual assault are far more serious problems than parents realize. Mr. Youngkin’s promise to put resource officers in every school is a step in the right direction. But he should also empower a nonprofit school-safety auditing organization to administer anonymous safety surveys every semester to teachers and students. Administrators have incentives to cover up school violence. Students and teachers need a direct line to the public to expose these problems. It shouldn’t take an investigative journalist to uncover the rape of a child in a school.

Transparency around policy, curriculum and safety should form the basis of a new Republican education agenda. Mr. Youngkin must also move strongly to give more choices to Virginia parents dissatisfied with their current schools. He should offer parents education savings accounts (revenue from Virginia’s lottery could provide $500 a year for every student), expand school choice through charters and tuition tax credits, and hold school board elections in years when other big elections are taking place. This would give more parents a say over what’s happening in their public schools.

Traditionally Democrats have held the edge over Republicans when it comes to education because they promise to shower schools with money. But Democrats now embrace the subversion of parental authority to further a radical educational agenda. This gives Republicans an opportunity. By helping the GOP to become the parents’ party, Mr. Youngkin’s campaign provides national Republicans a policy playbook that appeals to parents like Marie Mierzejewski.