RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Education and the economy are dominating stump speeches in the final stretch of election season. Virginia’s leading candidates for governor have common goals but competing visions.
On schools, both Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin are pledging to pass the largest-ever education budget.
“That is my number one goal: paying teachers above the national average, getting the 41,000 at-risk three and four year-olds Pre-K,” McAuliffe said following an event in Richmond on Thursday morning.
McAuliffe drew a standing ovation from the crowd when he said the state needs to increase diversity in education. He committed to a program that would pay room, board and tuition for those who want to enter the field.
Unlike McAuliffe, Youngkin is pushing for more parental choice in education.
“We’re going to launch the most aggressive charter school program in the history of Virginia,” Youngkin said at a campaign stop in Appomattox, calling the investment a down payment to close the achievement gap.
As some Democrats push for less law enforcement in schools, Youngkin is calling for more funding for school resource officers.
“We should have school resource officers in every school and when I’m governor we’ll mandate that and if you don’t want to put them in your school, you’re not gonna get funding,” Youngkin said.
Culture wars are still taking center stage as concerns rage over transgender student policies and teaching race.
“We’re not going to have a political agenda in our classroom and on day one we’re going to ban critical race theory in our schools,” Youngkin said.
McAuliffe accused Youngkin of using children as political pawns and said it’s a myth that critical race theory is being taught in schools.
“It is a disgrace, it is disqualifying to be governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia to be bringing these racist dog whistles into our state,” McAuliffe said.
The candidates have also continued to spar over whether parents should be able to opt their students out of reading certain controversial books. McAuliffe has accused Youngkin of supporting a ban on books like “Beloved” and silencing Black authors. Youngkin’s campaign has clarified that he is not calling for a total ban.
Amid angst over vaccine mandates in schools, Youngkin has made it clear he is not considering it, adding that more shut downs are out of the question as well. McAuliffe has supported requiring the shots for students, teachers, employees at private businesses and healthcare workers.
On the economy, both candidates have touted their ability to recruit businesses and bring in new jobs.
Youngkin has harped on a review by the Richmond Times Dispatch which showed, “of the 79 economic development deals McAuliffe executed that have reached their deadlines, 31 delivered as many or more jobs than were promised. An additional 48 projects didn’t perform as well or deliver jobs as quickly as promised; of those, 32 didn’t produce a single new job in Virginia.”
Other reporting has also showed Youngkin’s career in private equity yielded a mixed record of success as well.
Meanwhile, the candidates have presented very different policy aspirations that will impact workers.
McAuliffe is promising to deliver paid family medical leave in his first General Assembly session as governor. He is also promising a $15 dollar per hour minimum wage increase by 2024.
Youngkin routinely highlights his plans to cut the grocery tax, suspend the most recent gas tax increase for 12 months, double the standard deduction, deliver “the largest tax rebate in Virginia history,” and exempt veterans from taxation on a portion of their retirement.
“We have to get our taxes down, our cost of living down, we have to cut back our regulatory code so it’s not so cumbersome,” Youngkin said. “McAuliffe wants to be able to raise your taxes with no one watching.”
Despite that accusation, McAuliffe has ruled out a tax increase during his term.
“I don’t raise taxes. I increase activity by growing jobs,” McAuliffe said.