Reprinted with permission from PressRun
Within hours of Republican Glenn Youngkin's victory in the Virginia governor's race, the political press began churning out analysis about how the GOP had seized upon education as a savvy "wedge issue" as the New York Times put it. Compounded with frustration over the pandemic, the press was sure that Republicans had taken hold of a potent issue, swiped it away from clueless Democrats, and produced a "roadmap" for 2022, according to CNN.
"School closures, not Critical Race Theory, paved the way for Glenn Youngkin's victory in Virginia," Yahoo News announced. "And if Democrats don't grasp the deep reserves of anger parents feel over Zoom school, they face much more severe losses in 2022." CNN breathlessly claimed that Youngkin's win "raises questions about whether Democrats have taken seriously enough parents' concerns on a range of issues about education."
But the storyline is a charade. Not only haven't Republicans mapped out a new pro-education blueprint to win over suburban and swing voters nationwide, Republicans and conservatives have become even more proudly anti-education during the pandemic. They've voted against nutrition programs, universal pre-K, they've disrupted school board meetings, and this week Big Bird emerged as GOP Public Enemy No. 1.
As for frustration over "Zoom school," that's been over for most American students for months because classrooms coast-to-coast that had been closed under the Trump administration have reopened under the Biden administration.
The current analysis among the Beltway media makes no sense. That might be because it's being crafted and told almost exclusively by Republican operatives, not educational professionals. Schools opened up under Democrats — they've returned to "normal" —but parents are mad at Democrats for last year's school closures?
Note that the Yahoo article that hit Democrats for being out of touch with angry parents lead off with an anecdote of a screaming father at a school board meeting in Virginia berating members about pandemic-era Zoom classes. But that specific outburst took place ten months ago, back in January, before Virginia schools re-opened September and Zoom classes ended.
Yahoo insisted, "Even as schools stay open, a new round of closures remains an all-too-real possibility," which is news to me. Are there any major public school systems seriously considering closing down in-person learning anytime soon, at a time when Covid cases in the U.S. are falling and children can now get vaccinated? There are just a handful of schools in the entire country today that have temporarily shifted to remote learning. (Context: There are nearly 100,000 public schools in the U.S.)
Still, the Beltway press has coalesced around the idea that Democrats paid a political price for school closures even though schools are no longer closed. When they were shuttered, Republicans ran the federal government most of that time and offered up an incompetent response to the public health crisis.
I think the press rallied around the "education" angle in Virginia, and specifically the issue of school closures, because journalists did not want to tell the truth about how Youngkin spent the entire campaign lying about critical race theory being taught in Commonwealth schools. The press certainly didn't want to linger on the notion that his race-baiting tactics are why he won. (The campaign "wasn't really about critical race theory," The Atlantic assured readers.) Instead, the media narrative emerged that Democrats misread the mood of parents.
When CNN recently held Youngkin up as a new breed of Education Republican, aside from his made-up claims about critical race theory, they couldn't point to a single serious education initiative he had championed during the campaign or would focus on as governor. For the record, a new CNN poll this week shows just three percent of Americans select education as the most important issue facing the country today. (The economy is first, at 36 percent.) Nationwide, there's very little backlash to how schools handled Covid, according to a new Axios poll.
Still, the illogical coverage gets worse. The first legislative act Biden undertook as president was to sign into law the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, and he did so over the objection of every single Republican member of the House and the Senate. The Covid relief bill allocated $120 billion dollars for schools to help them reopen and to help students catch-up on lost learning.
The new money came to nearly $2,500 per student nationwide and lots of it went to purchasing PPE, hiring additional school personnel like nurses, counselors, custodial staff, as well as improving ventilation and pay for small-group tutoring program. Republicans, now campaigning on school closures, opposed all of it. But that's being left out of the current education coverage.
CNN's pro-Youngkin report last week referenced the "flood of pandemic-related education funding from the Covid-related stimulus bills," but failed to acknowledge that everyone from Youngkin's party voted against the historic funding. When CNN interviewed four pro-Youngkin suburban moms who championed Republicans as being pro-education and who said the pandemic school closures had changed their views on politics, the fact that Republicans uniformly voted down the single largest federal outlay on education spending to help reopen schools was politely ignored.
Today, Biden is trying to shepherd into law the Build Back Better bill, which would pay for universal pre-K, contains billions to help families cover the costs of child care, and would transform early education in America — and every Republican member of the House and Senate opposes it.
So much for the GOP being the "education" party.