Home Education Video: Former VA Secretaries of Education Anne Holton, Atif Qarni Talk About...

Video: Former VA Secretaries of Education Anne Holton, Atif Qarni Talk About Fighting Youngkin’s Misinformation and Attacks on Public Education, The Need for Democrats to Win Elections at the State and Local Levels

Thanks to Youngkin et al, "[teachers] and their principals sometimes are self-censoring out of fear"

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Former Virginia Secretaries of Education, Anne Holton and Atif Qarni, spoke yesterday at the 2023 VA Women’s Summit. See below for video and a few highlights.

Anne Holton: “The Board of Education…it’s one entity that helps decide education policy in Virginia, but really there are so many players. and I think the school board members frankly in the local community are almost more important and our state legislators, because they decide the budget…Local school boards are so important for so many reasons – they can have teachers backs or make their lives miserable. And we all know that the most important thing for student success is having a quality teacher in every classroom, am I right? And this whole notion that it’s parents against teachers is just crazy. I mean we all know teachers are eager to have parents involved in their education from the get-go and always have been.”

Atif Qarni: “Folks who have a lot of privilege and a lot of power, generally speaking, when there is change that is good, meaningful and tries to include others, there is otherizing that happens. So…there is a browning of America happening right, it’s becoming more and more diverse…We are becoming more and more inclusive, but with that a lot of people get anxiety and there’s pushback. So what’s happening with Governor Youngkin is that he is trying to appease a limited [number] of individuals who have real fear of change and that’s why we see a lot of this backlash happening… I urge people to stick to the facts and the truth. There is a lot of misinformation and billions of dollars that are being spent on misinformation, but we have the truth on our side and we’re fighting for the right causes, we’re fighting for justice for all different people and we’re taking an inclusive approach and we just have to stay the path.”

Atif Qarni: “Our student body has become more diverse…teachers and staff, the adults working in the buildings, about 80 percent of them are white and only about 20 are people of color. So we do definitely need more diversity. And…research shows that when you have adults working in a building that have the shared experiences of students that generally it does impact positively student outcomes…That is why during the McAuliffe Administration there was a really robust plan that was put out by secretary Holton and then Governor McAuliffe to look at teacher licensure and really expand that, including…teachers who are fully licensed and…to really diversify the pipeline of teachers. And then we picked up the baton and built on that during the Northam Administration. So there’s a recent effort [by the Youngkin administration] to roll back on the grant funding, specifically that was going to help recruit more teachers and more teachers of color to come into the profession. It goes against a lot of bipartisan work that happened and it really goes against our inclusive principles…and being loving and welcoming for everyone. So it’s again one of many things that Governor Youngkin is trying to roll back on which is regressive.”

Anne Holton: “We need more teachers, we need more Brown and Black teachers. It’s hard to get licenses; it takes money to take and pass these tests. Black and Brown people don’t have as much money – eight to one wealth gap in our nation, that’s improved from the 20 to 1 that it used to be. But so what an obvious solution that you helped make happen, this grant program, and the administration – even though they say they care about teacher shortages – not spending the money that’s been allocated. And I will just say that I think one of the biggest things we can do is not let them distract us. And the important issues in public education right now are teacher shortages, how do we get a quality teacher in every classroom. And absolutely the biggest part of the answer on that is the state budget. And the education budget that the…Democrats in the Senate have put forward and that the Democrats in the House would support if and when we can take back the House is a huge step in the right direction for public education; that’s the real prize we need to be focused on.”

Anne Holton: “We have to get loud by talking facts and sense. And we do have to figure out how to talk to the folks in the middle…We may feel like we understand all of these issues from our perspective, but we have to figure out how to help people who are swing voters, especially suburban women, are going to determine these elections, help them understand that our candidates are the ones who really care about education, who want to fund education and support teachers and support parents and teachers working together. And so I think we just have to work really hard to stay on message and to not get distracted, and we just have to work harder and harder. It’s absolutely a matter of knocking on doors and spending money and spending it wisely and effectively in the races that matter.”

Atif Qarni: “There was a misinformation campaign on Critical Race Theory; it took us time to catch up, but eventually a lot of people are confused, they started to get it that this is nonsense. So similarly with the issues with the anti-trans ban that Governor Youngkin put out as his model policies to replace what we did in 2021,  they’re purposely creating confusion with faith groups for example…I’ve met the faith leaders in the recent months especially in the last couple of days…and went over the nuances of both of the versions, and asked them what did we do in 2021 that was anti-any faith? How can any faith be against protecting children and being inclusive? So the response was that no, there’s nothing anti-faith in there. There’s just a lot of misinformation…they’re trying to divide drive a wedge between different communities…[Don’t] shy away from those tough conversations, but engage people, talk about the facts, hear them out and then redirect them on the things that Anne’s talking about. Right now, the number one concern based on research and anecdotally that I hear from from families and from students in K-12 settings and in college is mental health; for the first time in many generations right now, the quality of life has started to decline for our young people, because they are dealing with the largest amount of student debt if they go to college, they are dealing with so many things coming at them, and they’re dealing with the nonsense of misinformation…We really need to focus on these real bread-and-butter issues. And we talked about infrastructure, yes that has an impact on mental health as well. And we did start to make strides in broadband access and improving that and infrastructure, but then Governor Youngkin came in and redirected the efforts. But we just have to remind people, because it doesn’t matter where they live in Virginia and what political affiliation people have, they are all impacted by these things. And we just have to redirect them and really work hard to keep them focused on their issues that truly matter.”

Anne Holton: “[Teachers] and their principals sometimes are self-censoring out of fear, and so the intimidation factor and…the teacher shortages…If you look at charts, and some of this started before…the pandemic and the recent craziness, but it’s only made it worse. But the number of people exiting the profession going up and up and up, the number of people entering or expressing interest and going into the profession going down or down, the gap is just quite scary. And you know, the infrastructure ties into that too – who wants to work in a crumbling building?”

Anne Holton: “It’s hard to argue with the budget being the most important thing. For us to be able to address crumbling school buildings, to hire great teachers we’ve got to have resources. And that is probably the most important thing that our state legislators can address and why we need to be taking back the House and preserving the Democratic leadership in the Senate. And then for local races, we need local school leaders who are going to have teachers’ backs and who understand parents and teachers working together for students. And that cuts across all kinds of issues at the local level.”

Atif Qarni: “…We have legislative solutions. In 2019 when we had the trifecta of Democrats, there was a lot of progress made, there was a record amount of investments. The teacher shortage went from about 1,100 positions to about 700 or so right before the pandemic. So we saw the needle move significantly just in two years, and I truly believe that we can make the needle move again. But in addition to winning back the House and the Senate and the governor’s mansion in 2025 is local school board races…I would encourage you…if you can encourage [your state legislators] to do really a lot of good organizing with local candidates, because oftentimes School Board races get neglected – and we need to win down the ballot across the state and really to get power back.”

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