Youngkin touts ‘lab schools’ at Franklin-Southampton breakfast

Published 6:26 pm Thursday, June 9, 2022

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin highlighted his plans for agriculture and education at the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Breakfast with The Governor” event, held at the Cypress Cove Country Club in Southampton County the morning of June 9.

Though agriculture remains Virginia’s No. 1 industry, “we’re seeing fewer and fewer Virginians go into it,” Youngkin said.

The state budget includes $100 million for the creation of K-12 “lab schools” that would offer workforce-tailored curriculum in a variety of industries.

His preferred solution — the creation of K-12 “lab schools” that would offer workforce-tailored curriculum in a variety of industries, including agriculture — is earmarked to receive $100 million in Virginia’s budget, even though a bill to create such schools ended up stalling in the General Assembly. The budget is now on its way to Youngkin’s desk after months of negotiations between the Democratic-controlled state Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

“If you can’t get it done during the session, get it done during the budget,” Youngkin quipped. It’s one of a “few big learnings” the businessman-turned-governor said he’s discovered during his first five months in office.

Youngkin also highlighted Senate Bill 739, which effectively eliminated school mask mandates statewide by allowing parents an opt-out. The bill passed in February days after an Arlington County Circuit Court judge granted seven school boards a restraining order against Youngkin’s similarly-worded Executive Order No. 2.

“When we needed a vote in order to empower parents to get masks off of kids, the votes showed up,” Youngkin said. “When we needed a vote to empower parents to make decisions with regards to sexually explicit materials in schools, a vote showed up.”

Senate Bill 656, which Youngkin signed into law in April, requires school boards to adopt Virginia Department of Education model policies no later than Jan. 1, 2023, to permit parents to review any instructional material that includes “sexually explicit content” and provide an alternative assignment at parents’ request. The push for greater parental oversight of school reading assignments has played out in neighboring Isle of Wight County, whose School Board has received backlash since last fall over Smithfield High School’s “Read Woke” challenge.

The voluntary challenge encourages students to read social justice-themed books from a list of 70 titles available at the school’s library. Some parents have objected to the profanity and sexual content in some of the selections, while others have argued the books’ focus on race relations is divisive.

Youngkin then turned to wait times at Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles service centers, which he said stood at an average of 35 minutes in January “just to see somebody to get started.”

To put pressure on DMV centers to cut their wait times, the state began publishing a scorecard every morning, Youngkin said. Those with waits of 25 minutes or more would be displayed in red, those with 10- to 25-minute waits in yellow, and those with waits of 10 minutes or less in green.

When a DMV office in Portsmouth found itself consistently in the red week after week, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sheppard “Shep” Miller III one day decided to pay the center an undercover visit and found himself waiting over an hour before pulling out his business card and revealing his identity.

“That Portsmouth DMV was green four weeks later,” Youngkin said.