- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2023

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin raised his national profile at a CNN town hall on education, fielding thorny questions in hostile territory with sunny optimism while fueling speculation about a possible 2024 presidential bid.

The first-term GOP governor touted his record on raising teacher pay and funding tutoring grants at the Thursday night event while sticking to his conservative principles on a host of education hotspots, including single-sex sports, critical race theory, sexually explicit materials, and academic excellence versus equity.

Asked about the Virginia high schools that failed to notify students about their National Merit Scholarship recognition, he said the matter is under investigation but also took issue with hiring consultants to teach “equity for all students, equal outcomes to all students at any cost.”

“We have to celebrate excellence,” Mr. Youngkin said. “We shouldn’t embrace equity at the expense of excellence. Students work hard, they receive these kinds of accolades. Their parents and the kids should know.”

A 17-year-old female-to-male transgender student named Niko raised the issue of gender identity, saying, “Look at me. I am a transgender man. Do you really think the girls at my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?”

The question didn’t exactly address the controversy, which has more to do with girls sharing restrooms with biological males than with biological females who identify as male.

Mr. Youngkin called for adding more restrooms at schools, including gender-neutral facilities, but drew the line at male-born students playing girls’ sports.

“I think sports are very clear, and I don’t think it’s controversial,” Mr. Youngkin said. “I don’t think that biological boys should be playing sports with biological girls. There’s been decades of efforts in order to gain opportunities for women in sports, and it’s just not fair.”

CNN cut to a shot of a man in the audience shaking his head in dismay. Mr. Youngkin concluded by telling Niko that he was “very, very glad to see you and your dad here together.”

Quizzed on race-related issues, the governor said it was important to teach history accurately, “the good and the bad,” without dividing people along racial lines.

He disagreed with a teacher who suggested that schools stop offering the Pledge of Allegiance because most students don’t recite it.

“I like the Pledge of Allegiance,” Mr. Youngkin said. “I think it’s really important to us to remember that there are ideals that formed this nation. It’s not geography. It’s a nation that was formed by an idea. That’s why I’m so focused on the fact that our history standards need to tell all our history, the good and the bad, but also need to tell the full story of America.”

That includes teaching students that “America is exceptional,” he said.

A Roanoke College poll last month found 57% of Virginian adults approve of Mr. Youngkin’s job performance, up from 52% in November. The multi-millionaire businessman won an upset victory over former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2021.

Asked by CNN host Jake Tapper about whether he plans to run for the GOP presidential nomination, Mr. Youngkin said “I love my job.”

“That’s what my focus is right now,” he said. “I believe there’s an enormous amount of work yet to do in Virginia. We’ve got a budget to negotiate. We’ve got a lot of work still to do in education. Every morning, I wake up and I thank the Lord for putting me there. I ask him for help and then I go to work with a spring in my step. So again, thank you for hiring me.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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