RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Monday, gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin unveiled his first major policy proposals, in a “day one” plan that covers tax cuts, charter schools, police pay and school mask mandates.
At an indoor event in Northern Virginia, Youngkin spoke to a crowd of supporters about his vision for the commonwealth, drawing cheers from the crowd on topics such as sweeping proposed tax cuts and a plan to ban critical race theory in schools.
Education: Masking Up
Youngkin’s proposals for education touched on a number of topics that will impact Virginia school systems.
Youngkin said he supported a plan, implemented by the Northam administration this year, to require schools to offer five days of in-person instruction across the state – signaling a return to normalcy for students who experienced learning losses during school closures last year.
But he broke with the Northam administration on the issue of mask mandates, saying the decision to use masks or any other COVID mitigation measures should be left to parents. He indicated he would reverse the governor’s policy of requiring local schools to comply with CDC guidelines, and said the governor has “ceded control of the classrooms to teachers unions.”
That campaign promise comes even as the latest surge in COVID cases has disproportionately affected children – infecting them at higher rates and increasing their rate of hospitalization. That’s partly because children under the age of 12 aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated, and daily case numbers among 0-9 year-olds have already passed last January’s peak.
Youngkin also said he would ban critical race theory in classrooms, a popular rallying cry among conservative groups in recent months. Youngkin’s opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, has decried concerns over critical race theory as a “right-wing conspiracy.”
Education: Money Matters
When it comes to school funding itself, Youngkin’s plans are a bit more complicated. Youngkin said he would introduce a proposal to freeze property tax payments – the main funding mechanisms localities use to pay for schools – at current levels, meaning homeowners would pay the same dollar amount in property taxes unless a local referendum is held to increase them.
In effect, that would mean local revenues would decline each year due to inflation unless a referendum is passed to maintain the tax rate.
“Real estate taxes have escalated at an extraordinary rate, and there’s no check and balance,” Youngkin said, framing the policy as an issue of popular control. “We’re gonna give a voice to the people, instead of these ‘in the dark of the night’ increases.”
And if localities don’t manage to pass referendums to maintain or increase property tax funding, Youngkin told 8News they might have to employ “fiscal discipline.”
Youngkin also proposed opening 20 new charter schools across the commonwealth, and told 8News the construction wouldn’t place a burden on localities, “We’re gonna use money from the [American Rescue Plan Act] program to make these investments out of the box.”
Charter schools are a controversial mixture of public funding and private partnerships, which advocates claim bring innovative methods to backwards public systems, but which critics say are a drain on scarce public funds with no consistent standards.
Charter schools in Virginia do draw funds from local coffers because they enroll the same students who would otherwise attend nearby public schools.
While upfront costs under Youngkin’s plan would be shouldered by the state and federal government, when pressed by 8News on whether upkeep costs would fall on localities or be supported by the state, Youngkin didn’t give a direct answer.
Instead, Youngkin said, “To be very clear, we’re gonna invest more in education in our budget than has ever been invested in education. We’re gonna get these charter schools going without putting a burden on local school budgets.”
He did not specify whether upkeep costs would fall to local school divisions once the charter schools are established.
In a statement following Youngkin’s announcement, the McAuliffe campaign said, “All of Glenn Youngkin’s Trumpian tax plans have one thing in common: they would lead to drastic cuts to public education.”
Sweeping Tax Cuts
When it comes to taxes, Youngkin’s stance is clear-cut whenever possible. Youngkin wants to eliminate Virginia’s grocery tax – a 2.5% levy on food and personal hygiene products – suspend an increase in the gas tax, offer a tax rebate to all filers, and double the current individual income tax deduction.
All in all, that would mean billions in tax cuts – some of it going directly to Virginians.
“Virginians deserve this,” Youngkin said. “There was a $2.6 billion surplus last year because the liberals in Richmond over-taxed Virginians by $2.6 billion dollars.”
But some of that relief would be temporary – Youngkin said he would reinstate the gas tax at its current rate after a year, calling it an “appropriate investment in our road infrastructure.”
Youngkin also said he would raise pay for state police, local sheriff’s office employees, and correctional officers. Campaign staff told reporters at least some of the burden for the pay increase in sheriff’s offices would fall on localities.
Echoing national GOP rhetoric, Youngkin said he wouldn’t be the “defund the police” candidate – but his proposal on officer pay mirrors one included by the Northam administration in their budget earlier this year.