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CNN Live Event/Special
Gov. Youngkin On Difference Between Teaching CRT And Historical Injustices Like Slavery; Youngkin On Questions About Unspoken Culture Of Racism & Implicit Bias Against Teachers Of Color; Gov. Youngkin On Learning Loss. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 09, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war over education.
(PROTESTERS CHANTING "SHAME ON YOU!")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's turned schools into culture war battlefields.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beware of terms like "Social justice," "Equity," "Inclusion."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How should America teach its children about race, history, and identity?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're teaching children to hate others because of their skin color.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cannot tell me what is or is not racist. Look at me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plus, a pandemic-fueled plunging test scores, and kids struggling with their mental health.
GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): We must go to work for our children. They can't wait.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin. His election win transformed the politics of education, in America.
YOUNGKIN: We are the party that knows that parents matter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, he's taking questions from parents, teachers, and students, in a special CNN Town Hall event.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, CNN TOWN HALL: Good evening, and welcome to a CNN Town Hall, "THE WAR OVER EDUCATION," with Virginia's Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin.
I am Jake Tapper.
It is the issue that has become a flashpoint, across the country, in classrooms, at school board meetings, at the ballot box. Communities, nationwide, reckoning with big questions, about parental rights in K through 12 classrooms, and what children are taught, in school.
In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin has made education, the centerpiece, of his successful campaign, and his agenda.
And tonight, our audience is made up of parents, and teachers, and students, from across the Commonwealth of Virginia, who will have the chance, to directly question Governor Youngkin, about these issues that impact children's future.
So, let's get right to it. Please welcome Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin.
TAPPER: Thanks so much. Good to see you.
YOUNGKIN: How are you? Thank you so much.
(AUDIENCE CHEERS & APPLAUSE)
YOUNGKIN: How are you?
YOUNGKIN: Thank you. Thank you.
TAPPER: Have a seat, sir, if you would,
YOUNGKIN: Thank you.
TAPPER: Education is the key issue for you, perhaps more so than any other governor, in the country. You ran your campaign on it. You issued your first Executive Order on it. Why? Why is this issue your main focus?
YOUNGKIN: Well, first of all, Jake, I want to say thank you, thanks to CNN for hosting tonight.
And I want to thank all the Virginians that are here. Thanks for coming from all over the Commonwealth, and focusing on this most important topic.
We almost have to step back a little bit, and reflect on the fact that Virginia was known to have the best high schools.
We have the best colleges, the best universities, ranging all the way from, from Thomas Jefferson High School, which was ranked number one, in the country, as the best high school, to our revered HBCUs, to a higher ed system that's ranked top, in the country.
And yet, here we are, at Ground Zero, Ground Zero, in the debate, and the battle, over high schools, colleges, curriculum, parents, the role of teachers. This is Virginia.
The big question we always ask is, how did we get here, though? And you look back to pre-pandemic. And what happened was administrations lowered expectations, for children, and for schools.
And then, we got into the pandemic. And parents, all of a sudden, had a front-row seat, in their child's education, as kitchens and family rooms were transformed into classrooms. And what they saw, they didn't like.
They saw the result of lowered expectations. They actually saw Jake, that what was being taught in the schools was pitting children against one another, based on race or sex, or religion.
And what they also saw were materials that really weren't comfortable for them, and consistent with their family values.
And then, once folks went back to school, after an extended closure, which was unnecessary, in Virginia, in my view, what happened was masks were mandated, and violence in schools went up, as school resource officers were barred, from being in schools. And the behavioral health crisis escalated. And academic performance plummeted.
We saw the scores come out, over the summer from the National Report Card, otherwise known as NAEP. And what we saw was Virginia kids suffered more than kids, across the country. Fourth graders had the largest learning loss, in math, the largest learning loss, in reading. And all of a sudden, the fear that so many parents had that schools weren't delivering for their children was realized.
YOUNGKIN: Well, now we find ourselves, in a campaign, in an election. And we watched Virginians come together, Republicans and Democrats, not Republicans versus Democrats. And it was all around a very simple concept: Parents matter. And parents deserve not only to be at the table, but they deserve to have the head seat at the table.
And when we had seen once we got into office that it was worse than we expected, when we actually saw the fact that many of the things that the left liberal progressives were saying weren't going on in schools, were actually going on in schools.
YOUNGKIN: And so, we had to go to work, right away, in order to make a difference.
TAPPER: So, let's take our first question.
I want you to meet Michelle Wingfield, a high school language arts teacher, from North Chesterfield. She's a Republican.
YOUNGKIN: Hi, Michelle.
MICHELLE WINGFIELD, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER, REPUBLICAN VOTER: If education is supposed to be such a high priority, in Virginia, why are teachers, which, as you know, are so hard to come by, right now, so underpaid? As a newly-single mother, I can barely afford rent on my salary, even with this being my seventh year teaching.
YOUNGKIN: Great. So, Michelle, first of all, I want to thank you for teaching.
And I look back on the teachers that had an impact, on my life, growing up, Ms. Betty Weaver, who was my fourth grade teacher. And I'm just in awe of the great men and women, across the Commonwealth, who have dedicated themselves, to educating our children.
And so, thank you, thank you, because I know that there will be somebody, along the way, who says, "I remember my teacher," and it will be you, and you had an impact on their life. And so, thank you.
One of the big challenges that we have, across the Commonwealth, and across the country, is just a horrific shortage in teachers. And the reality is, of course, that historically, teachers, in my view, were underpaid. And it was why I made at the center of our campaign, making sure that we pay teachers more.
And I'm proud to say that, in my - in our first year, we were able to pay teachers more, and deliver on that promise, a 5 percent raise, last year, another 5 percent raise, this year, for 10 percent, over a two-year period.
But we need to do better. And we know that because if we're going to attract the best and the brightest, into teaching, we need to make sure that they can afford to live, they can afford to live, in Virginia.
And so, that's why we went to work, over the summer, when there was such a shortage in teachers, to dedicate $30 million, to recruit teachers, from across the country, to streamline the licensing transfer process, when teachers come from other states, and to make sure that teachers, who might have retired, and might come back, there won't be any blocks, to them coming back and teaching again.
So, in the heart of education is parents. Right behind them are our teachers. And we know that when we have a partnership, between parents and teachers, Virginia's kids will thrive.
So, thank you, again, for being a teacher.
TAPPER: So, your first Executive Order ends the teaching of critical race theory, or CRT, in public schools. For those who don't know, critical race theory teaches that racism in the United States is systemic, meaning it's ingrained, within the judicial or the healthcare or the school system.
So, we have a question about CRT, from Brock Barnes. Brock Barnes, a social studies teacher, in Augusta County, Virginia, who is an Independent.
BROCK BARNES, SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHER, INDEPENDENT VOTER: In recent years, there has been a lot of debate, regarding the teaching of CRT, in public schools. As a social studies teacher, I find it imperative, to teach history, through facts, and the perspectives, of the people, involved in a historical event.
Governor Youngkin, what is your view, on the difference, between teaching CRT, in the classroom, and the teaching of historical injustices, such as slavery and segregation, and the impact this had on Americans?
YOUNGKIN: Yes. Thank you for that great question. Thanks for coming all the way to be with us tonight. And, again, thank you for being a teacher.
And again, the role that teachers play in our kids' lives is invaluable. And for anyone watching tonight, who might be inspired to be a teacher, come be a teacher, in Virginia.
Teaching our history is critical. And I have said all along that our standard should be to teach all of it, the good and the bad. And we can't walk away, from our history, because there have been just incredibly, incredibly difficult, challenging dark times, in our history, as a Commonwealth, and as a nation.
And that's why, when I laid out my key objectives, for our history standards, it was doing exactly that, teaching all of our history, the good and the bad. I'm pleased with our history standards, because I think they will be the best in the nation.
We, in fact, enhanced the discussion of slavery, and made sure that everyone understood, for the first time, in Virginia history standards that the cause of the Civil War was slavery. And the teaching of that basic fact is critical.
Recently, I had the great privilege, of going on a field trip, with fourth graders, from Mary S. Peake Elementary School. And we went to Fort Monroe.
If anybody hasn't been to Fort Monroe, you should go, because extraordinary things happened at Fort Monroe.
Of course, with the fourth graders, we learned together, and discussed the fact that while Fort Monroe was a Union fort, during the Confederacy, something extremely important happened there, more than 400 years before. And that was the beginning of slavery, in the United States. In 1619, the first enslaved Africans were brought, to the colonies, to America, and it happened right there, at Point Comfort.
And we had a chance to talk about this, with fourth graders, and we had a chance to talk about the fact that enslaved people were brought here, against their will, and how horrific that was.
But we also had a chance to talk about what happened, more than 200 years, after that, during the Civil War, when brave individuals, gave refuge, to slaves, and brought freedom, to so many people, at Fort Monroe. What a rich discussion it is!
And so, I think we need to make sure that we are teaching all of our history, the good and the bad. But the key point--
YOUNGKIN: --is how we teach it.
YOUNGKIN: We need to teach it honestly and transparently, but we shouldn't teach it with judgment.
And one of the clear realities is that what had crept in to our school systems, were divisive concepts, divisive concepts that had curriculum and materials that were forcing our children to judge one another.
TAPPER: So, let me exactly ask you about that, which is kind of following up on what Brock was asking.
Because your, Executive Order that ended the teaching of CRT, said that it would end the teaching of inherently divisive concepts--
TAPPER: --including CRT.
So, other than CRT, can you give us a specific example of what is an inherently divisive concept that you think should not be taught in Virginia School?
YOUNGKIN: Yes, so the inherently divisive concepts are taken directly, from the Civil Rights Act.
And they're teaching children that they're inherently biased, or racist, because of their race, or their sex, or their religion. They teach that a child is guilty for sins of the past, because of their race, or their religion, or their sex. They teach that a child is oppressed, or a victim, because of their race, their religion, or their sex.
And, of course, we've seen this in curriculum. You see, critical race theory isn't a class that's taught. It's something that is it's a philosophy that's incorporated, in the curriculum. TAPPER: So--
YOUNGKIN: And we saw it in Fairfax County, with Privilege Bingo, and games like this.
YOUNGKIN: But we also saw it in teacher training, and professional development, in recommended books, entitled "Critical race theory."
And so, this is why it was so important, for us, to clearly define what was not going to be taught, in schools, and what was. Because, this is a chance to make sure that we're not pitting our children against one another, based on race, or religion, or their sex. But?
YOUNGKIN: Teaching all history, the good and the bad.
TAPPER: So, let me just ask you one more follow-up on that, which is what do you say, to a teacher, who wants to teach any one of any number of scholars, who say that the condition of Black Americans, today, can be traced all the way back to Fort Monroe, in 1619, that it's not as if every generation is just brought for - brought forth knew that there were hundreds of years of slavery, a 100 years of Jim Crow, and today is part of that?
YOUNGKIN: Yes, well, I, first of all, we must step back and teach all of that.
And then, we have to recognize where we are today, and see, I think the opportunity for us today is to recognize that there are students, who need extra help, and there are students, who can soar, right where they are. And we have to teach to both.
And one of the challenges of today's world, of equal outcomes, for all students, at any cost, is that we, in fact, are holding all students down. And that's why I have been so consistent. We can raise the ceiling, and we can raise the floor. And we can teach our children, where they are.
We can provide opportunities for those students to run as fast as they possibly can, and we need to provide extra resources, for those students, in those schools that need them. And the reality is that's something that we went to work on, right out of the box.
And that's why, in my first session, we passed the Virginia Literacy Act, in order to focus on K through third reading, and provide reading coaches, for those schools and students that need them.
YOUNGKIN: And we're doing the same thing in math now.
TAPPER: I have another member of the faculty here, Tyron Barnes. He's a High School Band Director, from Fairfax. He's a Democrat. Mr. Barnes?
TYRON BARNES, HIGH SCHOOL BAND DIRECTOR, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Governor Youngkin, do you agree that there's an unspoken culture of racism and implicit bias against teachers of color within school districts nationwide?
YOUNGKIN: So, I believe racism exists, and racism has existed for centuries, and thousands of years. And we should condemn it.
And my faith teaches me first to love God above all other things, and then to love each other, as he loves us. And I think it is imperative that there's no room for racism, there's no room, for bias, there's no room, for harassment, in our schools, or in our communities.
I also believe that we have an opportunity to come together, as Virginians, and as Americans, and to lock arms, and say, "We're going to look forward." And we are going to create opportunity, we are going to educate our children to go take that opportunity, and we can lift up all Virginians.
See, what we've found ourselves, in a moment, where we're allowing ourselves, to be pitted against one another, on all things. And we all of a sudden find that everything has to be viewed, through a lens of race.
I don't think we should ignore our past. I think we should know it. I don't think we should pretend that racism doesn't exist, because it does. But how we move forward is up to us. And I think there's an opportunity for us to put down the accusations, and put down the judgment, and move together, in a way that lifts up all people.
TAPPER: So, we've all heard about the pilot, Advanced Placement or AP African American Studies class, which it's become a national order, because the Governor of Florida banned it.
You've ordered a review of this pilot program. What are your specific concerns about it?
YOUNGKIN: Well, I don't have any specific concerns other than under my Executive Order 1, I want to make sure that there aren't inherently divisive concepts that are used in the teaching of this AP course. And so, I just asked our Department of Education to do exactly what Executive Order Number 1 asks us to do, on all of our curriculum.
And I have no reason to believe, given the changes that I know have been made to that course, that it won't be a fine course for Virginia. But I have to let our Department of Education do their job. This is what I've asked them to do. And I look forward to getting their report back.
TAPPER: So, here's a parent. I want you to meet Thomas Britton, a father and physicist, from Newport News. Earlier this year, a 6-year- old student shot a teacher, in Newport News, and it's in Thomas' son's classroom. And Thomas is a Democrat.
YOUNGKIN: Hi, Thomas.
THOMAS BRITTON, SON WAS IN CLASSROOM WHEN 6-YEAR-OLD STUDENT SHOT TEACHER: Since the start of the year, Virginia has had two incidents, of 6-year-olds bringing guns to school, one of which led to my son's teacher being shot. Since 2021, there have been hundreds of weapons confiscated, on school property.
What concrete measures are being taken, to protect both students and staff in our schools?
YOUNGKIN: Yes. Thomas, thank you, and thank you for bringing up what is just an incredibly difficult topic for all of us.
What happened with a 6-year-old bringing a gun to school, and then shooting his teacher is just extraordinary. And all of us find ourselves, in a moment, as a parent, I'm a parent of four, wondering how that can happen, and how do we keep our children safe?
See, Virginia has some of the toughest gun laws, in the country. And what we continue to find is that those gun laws, don't keep us safe. Because it's not laws that keep us safe. It's the behavior of people that we need to make sure that we are paying attention to.
Parents have a responsibility to keep guns out of their young children's hands, and they need to be held accountable for that.
And on top of that, coming out of the pandemic, we have an extraordinary behavioral health crisis, across the Commonwealth, and across the nation.
See, coming out of the pandemic, I think, our children were put in circumstances that they had never yet - they've never yet experienced, loneliness, isolation. And before we know it, we see the behavioral health crisis, representing itself, in our young people worse than almost any other generation.
And that's why it's been so important for us to move forward with an aggressive transformation, of Virginia's behavioral health system. You see, our health system can't keep up with the demand. The behavioral health crisis has put such an extensive burden, on the system that we have to transform it.
And that means that in our plan, which we call "Right Help, Right Now," we proposed investing nearly $250 million, in order to create capacity, in schools, with counselors, with telemedicine, to create capacity, with mobile crisis units, and crisis receiving units, and to provide capacity, after a crisis, so that there's a place for people to go.
TAPPER: We have a question on mental health--
YOUNGKIN: Yes. TAPPER: --that we'll get to in a little bit.
TAPPER: But I do, just to follow-up, on what Thomas was asking about, if I may.
What about individuals, who say there are laws that could help law enforcement, keep guns out of the hands of people, who would use them, for harm?
You could strengthen the red flag laws in Virginia. You could require by law, parents, to lock their guns, either in safes or with trigger locks, and that would keep a 6-year-old from being able - much less two 6-year-olds, from being able to get guns, to bring them to school.
Would you ever contemplate anything like that?
YOUNGKIN: Well, let me repeat.
YOUNGKIN: As I said, Virginia has some of the toughest gun laws, in the nation. And we have red flag laws, and we have requirements that parents keep guns out of the hands of young children. The reality is, if people don't follow the law, then the laws aren't as powerful as they otherwise could be.
TAPPER: Your safe storage law is kind of weak.
YOUNGKIN: And - this is the challenge that we got, right--
YOUNGKIN: --which is at the end of the day, we in fact, need parents to take ownership, for what they're doing. And we need to also make sure that we are addressing some - the crisis, in the family, and the crisis in behavioral health that is putting people, in a position, where they want to cause harm, to themselves or to others.
We can't dismiss the behavioral health issue. We just can't.
TAPPER: No, no, no, we have questions on it.
TAPPER: Later on.
YOUNGKIN: And we can't. And at the heart of this, is the fact that our behavioral health crisis is showing up, in the workplace. It's showing up in schools. It's showing up at home.
YOUNGKIN: And people are taking their own lives and hurting others.
TAPPER: So, we're going to take a quick break.
Up next, two critical issues, in Virginia schools, right now, gender identity and the rights of parents in classrooms.
Stick with us. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: Welcome back to a CNN Town Hall, on Education, with Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin.
Governor, I want you to meet Guinevere Que. She's a nurse practitioner, and a mother of two girls, from McLean, Virginia. She's a lifelong Republican, who recently became a Democrat,
GUINEVERE QUE, MOTHER, RECENTLY SWITCHED FROM REPUBLICAN TO DEMOCRAT: School-wide testing was very revealing, in that lower math and reading scores were affected by the COVID shutdown. The whole world was behind on reading and math.
Why aren't we providing free on-site after-school tutoring, to every kid, who needs it automatically? Why not recruit retired teachers, or retired anyone, to provide this much-needed service?
YOUNGKIN: Great. Thank you for that great question. And you just wrote my Executive Order from last August! And so, thank you.
I also want to say thanks for being a nurse. My mom was a nurse. And she was a nurse practitioner as well. So, I know your heart, and your heart's for people.
QUE: You're welcome.
YOUNGKIN: So, we have a tremendous learning loss. And it was worse than we thought.
And one of the big challenges, of course, is that it started prior to the pandemic, when expectations and standards were lowered, for all Virginia kids. And sadly, they met those lowered expectations. And in fact, during the pandemic, when schools were closed, for an extended period of time, kids lost even more.
And the NAEP scores, and our SOL scores show this. They show that, as I said, earlier, that our fourth graders had the largest learning loss, in the nation, in math, and in reading. And in fact, for our Black families, and our Hispanic families, it was disproportionately worse.
So, we went to work, immediately. And we did exactly the things that you pointed out. One is how do we provide tutoring. And so, we enabled a free tutoring service, through schoolhouse.org, for parents to come.
We just announced $30 million, in micro grants, for parents, to apply for grants, for special tutoring services, for their children. We worked hard to bring more teachers back in, and our opening of a teacher pipeline, from other states, to make the licensing requirements easier, in addition to $30 million, in recruitment money, were critical.
The bottom line is that we have got to make up lost ground. Two decades of progress was lost. And we've got to go fix this. The reality is that it starts all the way - it starts all the way through K through 12. But we also see it almost the worst in our younger children. And if they don't catch up, then they're in for a lifetime of challenges.
That's why I was so excited about the Virginia Literacy Act that we passed, last year, in a bipartisan basis, where we're standardizing the way we teach reading, in Virginia, the science of reading.
We may have known it as phonics, when we were growing up. But all teachers will be taught the same way on how to use instruction and materials, as well as parents, and where through my budget proposals can extend that to fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
This is a critical time for us, to not lose a generation. And that's why we have been so proactive, to make sure that extra learning opportunities, extra funding, more teachers are made available, to students, all across Virginia.
TAPPER: Yes. Very important question, Guinevere, thank you.
We had a Republican mom, from Virginia, who wanted to ask you a question, about new guidelines, for transgender students. But for family reasons, she had to cancel. She can't be here, tonight.
So, let me ask you. Can you just explain your transgender policies, and what you're trying to achieve with them?
YOUNGKIN: Yes, I can. This is a really important topic for us to discuss, because it's a tough one. It's a tough one.
And it starts with my belief that we have to love one another, we have to deeply respect one another. And so, that's where our policy starts, respecting all students. There's no room for bullying. There's no room for harassment. And we specifically identify that more than 30 times, in our policy.
But our number one priority is to make sure, after students are safe, that their parents are involved in their lives. These are difficult, difficult decisions. And parents, want to be engaged, in their children's lives, and they have a right to be engaged, in their children's lives. And their children should have a parent involved in their life.
That is the heart of our policy, is that parents should know, what's going on, in their children's lives, and have a role. And when they do, then in fact, they can tackle these difficult decisions, together, as a family.
TAPPER: So Governor, I want you to - I want to bring in Niko, a 17- year-old student, from Arlington.
NIKO, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Governor Youngkin, your transgender model policies require that students play on the sports teams, and you the restrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth.
Look at me. I am a transgender man. Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?
YOUNGKIN: Yeah. So, first of all, Niko, thank you for, again, asking the question and being here tonight and engaging in this important discussion.
I believe first when parents are engaged with their children, then you can make good decisions together, and I met your dad, and I'm glad you're both here together. That's really, really important.
I also think that there are lots of students involved in this decision. And what's -- what's most important is that we try very hard to accommodate students. That's why I have said many, many times, we just need extra bathrooms in schools. We need gender neutral bathrooms. And so, people can use a bathroom that they in fact are comfortable with.
I think sports are very clear. And I don't think it's controversial. 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. And I think that's pretty -- that's noncontroversial and something that I think is pretty well- understood.
Again, I think these are very difficult discussions, and I am very, very glad to see you and your dad here together.
TAPPER: There are obviously a lot of different views on this topic, and you've said it should be up to parents. But it's not that simple, right? Because Niko's dad assuredly feels different than the Republican mom who was supposed to be here earlier. In that case, which parent do you go with?
YOUNGKIN: Well, I don't think it's that hard, when we start with the basic principle that parents matter. And you know, there are parents who have unfortunately been on the other side of not being told what was going on in their child's life, and I believe that Sage's grandmother is here tonight and --
TAPPER: She's over there.
YOUNGKIN: Hi. And, of course, what happened in Sage's life was that counselors and
teachers didn't tell Sage's family about the fact that she was transgender. And she got caught up in some horrific human trafficking issues, and they almost lost her. And they didn't -- they didn't know.
See, there's a basic rule here, which is that children belong to parents. Not to the state, not to schools, not to bureaucrats, but to parents. That's where the first step has to be.
TAPPER: So I don't doubt that Sage's grandmother and Niko's dad are wonderful. But not every parent is supportive, especially when it comes to LGBTQ students, especially when it comes to transgender students. Then what?
YOUNGKIN: Well, again, I believe firmly that parents have a right to be engaged in their children's lives. And parents want to be engaged in children's lives. And a child does want their parent.
This is a moment for counselors and teachers and parents to come together and deal with what is a difficult issue. But they should do it together.
TAPPER: Let's bring in James Miller, an actuary and former high school teacher from Ashburn, Virginia. He's a Republican.
JAMES MILLER, FORMER HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER, REPUBLICAN VOTER: Thank you.
My wife and I are residents of Loudoun County. Our oldest graduated from public school and we currently have two children in our local public schools. We can't afford private school. And my wife and I are unable to home school. So what would you say, what hope can you give to parents like my wife and I who want our kids to get a good education in a safe environment free of political agenda, left or right, when our local school system has frequently made the news for failing in each of those things?
YOUNGKIN: So, first of all, again, thank you for having been a teacher, and I think that what we have seen in Loudoun County is really representative of all of the issues that we've been talking about tonight. And that is a school district that's embraced equity, embraced divisive concepts in teaching, and parents saw it and stood up and said, wait a minute, time-out. And then it was coupled with the fact that there was a young woman who was sexually assaulted in a school, and the superintendent moved that child, without telling the family, to another school and another young woman was sexually assaulted.
You know, it took a new governor, an executive order, an attorney general, and Jason Miyares' investigation for nine months, in order to get an indictment of what was a cover-up.
See, there's a basic truth that I believe that school boards and superintendents and administrators need to be held to. [21:35:03]
One is that parents matter. Transparency is critical. And they do have a responsibility to tell parents and to tell the police when there has been crime, violent crime.
This issue is at the heart of why we as administration work so hard to pass bills to make it mandatory, that in fact violent crime is reported to police and can't be covered up again, just like it was. We're working hard in order to make sure that curriculum in schools is robust and teaches our children how to think, not what to think.
We're working hard to make sure that schools are safe by reinserting school resource officers back into the school system and funding them. We're working hard to make sure that expectations are returned to being the best in the nation from having been taken down to the worst. And we're working hard to make sure that we have an accountability system for our schools that just recognizes when a school is underperforming, we can bring resources to help because looking at our NAEP scores and SRL (ph) scores, every school in Virginia cannot pass accreditation.
We've got work to do, and we're working hard to make sure that you can trust the public school systems, and that is at the top of our agenda.
TAPPER: I need a school bell is what I need.
Up next -- for the break. So, up next, artificial intelligence in the classroom. Should it be banned, should it be embraced?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to our CNN town hall with Virginia's Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.
We have lots of questions for you. But, first, I do want to ask you, one of the big issues educators are facing right now is the growth of artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT, things that these computers can do things such as write essays --
TAPPER: -- and solve math problems.
Some school districts in Virginia such as Fairfax County schools, they have essentially banned it.
Do you think more Virginia schools should ban ChatGPT?
YOUNGKIN: Yeah, I think they should. And I think we should just be clear about what our goal of education is, which is to make sure that our kids can think. And therefore, if some -- if a machine is thinking for them, then we're not accomplishing our goal.
And yeah, I do think it's something to be very careful of and I think more school districts should ban it.
So, we have another student here tonight. There are a lot of kids in Virginia around the country and in Virginia who rely on public schools to get their nutrition for the day, as you know.
On that topic, I want to turn to Taelyn Hoover-Smith, an 8 grade student from Yorktown -- Taelyn.
YOUNGKIN: Nice to see you.
TAELYN HOOVER-SMITH, 8TH GRADE STUDENT: What can we do to improve school lunches both in the amount of food and the variety that we get at middle school? I skip lunch so my parents won't have to pay for a small snack that is lunch for me. I know my friends do the same. It's just not enough food.
YOUNGKIN: Yeah. So I, too, find that -- that as I travel around Virginia, one of the things I hear most about from parents is about food and the quality of food.
And food insecurity is an extraordinary problem right now. We have the greatest sense of insecurity with food in Virginia than we've ever had. And for so many students, that meal at school and with programs, breakfast as well, is their best chance to get a good meal every day.
And so I think we start with -- I think we start with recognizing that local schools have substantial funding, and we need to make sure that they're putting it to work. And that from the state level, that we set guidelines on what should be served in school.
You know, the school environment provides us an opportunity to really support families across Virginia and to support them in lots of ways. I've been deeply engaged with the schools in Petersburg over the last many months through a partnership that we struck with the state government and Petersburg in order to really address a whole host of issues that have plagued Petersburg for a long time.
What we found is wrap-around services in the school, from medical care to nutrition to tutoring to simply engaging with children, made a huge difference. And so, I'm excited about the opportunities that our schools can provide for families.
TAPPER: I know this is a topic we're coming to right now that you really want to talk to. This is Esther Pierre Ceus. She's from Virginia Beach. She's an assistant principal at a high school. She's an independent.
ESTHER PIERRE CEUS, HIGH SCHOOL ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL: I live in Virginia Beach, but I do work on the eastern shore for Arcadia High School, in Accomack County. So I wanted to clear that up.
TAPPER: All right. Appreciate it. Fact check.
CEUS: So as an assistant principal, I wanted to ask you, this is a big concern at Arcadia High School and a lot of rural schools around Virginia. How can we better help students who are struggling with mental health issues that go beyond the resources we have in schools?
YOUNGKIN: Yeah. No, so thank you for that most important question. Thanks for making the commute across the bridge and going to the eastern shore.
CEUS: Can you lower the toll?
TAPPER: Just for her, just for her.
YOUNGKIN: Let me look into it.
CEUS: Just for me.
And, you know, really, our rural schools face a lot of the same issues that some of our urban schools face as well, which is shortage of teachers, challenges with cost of living, challenges of making sure that we have schools fully staffed. But at the top of the list right now are challenges around behavioral health.
And as I said earlier, we've seen our behavioral health system overwhelmed. We've seen it overwhelmed because of the challenges that families are dealing with, students are dealing with coming out of the pandemic. We've seen record levels of teen contemplated suicide. We've seen self-harm. We've seen this present itself not just in schools but at home, and yes, in the workplace.
And so, this is why our behavioral health transformation is so important. And we identified this on day one.
We started working on day one on a transformation program that would provide more resources, more resources pre-crisis, so that folks can find help when they need it, not when they're in crisis. And we've funded in through our budget proposals this year more counselors into schools, and utilizing telehealth and telemedicine so that students and families can get help immediately.
We've also wanted to make sure that our institutions of higher education are resourced as well because of course our college students are seeing similar challenges. This is a moment for us to put politics down and to recognize that the behavioral health challenge in Virginia and America is one that doesn't pay attention to Republicans or Democrats. It doesn't pay attention to your income level. It doesn't pay
attention to your race or religion. This is a problem that is -- we're seeing overwhelm our systems.
That's why I'm excited about our new program called Right Help Right Now. We're getting moving to make sure that we bring resources across the commonwealth so we can address this most challenging issue.
TAPPER: I want you to meet another student. I'm really excited about the students here. You guys are very, very brave.
TAPPER: Callie Walsh, a high school student from Alexandria. She volunteers with an advocacy group called Generation Ratify -- Callie.
YOUNGKIN: Hi, Callie.
CALLIE WALSH, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: House bill 1448 appeared during this legislative session and would have forced the Department of Education to make recommendations on the adoption of model policies for the selection and removal of public school library materials. While this legislation did not pass during session, what is your stance on the removal of books from school libraries and how would you act if a piece of legislation similar to this one came across your desk in the future?
YOUNGKIN: Yeah. So, Callie, thank you for that most important topic.
YOUNGKIN: So my whole approach to this starts with parents and transparency. To make sure that parents know what's in the library and parents understand what materials are being used in the curriculum.
So last year, we were able to pass a bill on a bipartisan basis that gave parents full visibility into materials in the classroom, and if those are sexually explicit materials that aren't consistent with family values, then a parent can request a replacement, a replacement material into their child's curriculum.
See, I do believe that there's moments where we have to make decisions about what's age appropriate and what is appropriate. And those are hard decisions, but we shouldn't run away from them. We should engage in them. And these are healthy discussions for us to have.
What books should be in an elementary school library? Should they have explicit pictures in them? Or not? Well, I don't think they should be there.
And these are decisions that I think we should take on as opposed to run away from. And therefore, had that bill passed, I would have signed it. And then we would have engaged with communities. Not -- not in a strong handed way but in an engaged way, to listen and discuss and make good decisions for our kids. TAPPER: I want to ask you about an issue that's gotten a lot of
national attention from Virginia. Last year, some Virginia schools failed to notify quickly national merit commended students of their recognition at your request, an attorney general is now investigating this.
Have you seen anything indicating that these administrators did this intentionally as has been implied to avoid hurting the students' feelings who did not make that honor? Have you seen evidence of that?
YOUNGKIN: Yeah. Well, the attorney general's investigation is still going on, so I can't comment specifically on those facts. But, of course, what was -- what was suggested and communicated by the senior officials in schools was exactly that, that they had held back notifying students of their national merit commendation because they didn't want other students to feel bad.
And this was more than just one case. Next thing you know, we have -- we have over 16 or 17 schools across one school district that this was happening in.
The reality is that when a school hires consultants to come in and teach equity for all students, equal outcomes for all students at any cost, we end up with these kinds of circumstances. We have to celebrate excellence. We shouldn't embrace equity at the expense of excellence.
Students work hard. They should -- they receive these kinds of accolades. Their parents and their kids should know. They should know.
TAPPER: Yeah. I want you to meet Jessica Diacont. She's a Republican from Waynesboro. She is standing with her daughter. Jessica lost her 15-year-old son in 2021 to fentanyl.
She recently met with your wife at the governor's mansion and is working to tell her son's story. It's a tragic story. It's an awful story. We hear it increasingly, unfortunately, across the country -- Jessica.
JESSICA DIACONT, LOST HER SON TO FENTANYL POISONING IN 2021: Thank you.
Why are there's no Narcan available in the school systems where we live?
YOUNGKIN: Oh, Jessica. I am -- first of all, I'm so terribly sorry for your loss. I'm a father of four and I cannot imagine the pain that you've gone through and your family.
And, so, the first lady and I have been so focused on this issue that we have seen overdoses and poisonings go through the roof as we have a true epidemic and the free flow of drugs across our southern border has -- makes Virginia a border state. You know, for those folks who don't know, our overdoses have doubled. And over 75 percent of them are from fentanyl. And this is something that we all have to wake up to, that we have to recognize, that one pill can kill. And whether it was taken purposefully or taken by accident, no one wants to die. No one chooses to die.
We have an incredible antidote or treatment for this, which is Narcan. And I would encourage everybody to go through Narcan training. I'd gone through it. It's easy, it's important and you can get certified very quickly. And we just put into our budget to get passed funding to make sure that we can fully fund Narcan supplies across the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The federal funding has run out. I want to replace that with state funding to make sure that there are not schools or places across the common wealth of Virginia that don't have a supply of Narcan.
Thank you for sharing with us.
TAPPER: Thank you for that -- for telling that story. That's incredibly important that everybody, every parent be aware of that because it's not people necessarily taking fentanyl. Somebody might think it is a legal, edible (ph) supplement and there is fentanyl in it and it's just a teeny trace that can kill you.
Coming up, we're going to have more with Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin who is term limited. So does he have any future plans to run for any other office?
TAPPER: Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to our town hall with Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, is here with us talking about education.
And, you know, we've heard tonight from parents. We've heard from teachers. We've heard from faculty. We've heard from two high school students and one middle school student.
And just -- actually, just for the kids, I want to ask you, we're talking about K through 12 education. You had -- you had been a high school parent for more than a decade. Your youngest is a senior in high school. You grew up in Virginia. You played basketball in high school.
Did you like high school?
YOUNGKIN: Yeah, I loved high school. I loved high school. You know, I -- but you have those moments --
TAPPER: There he is, by the way. There --
YOUNGKIN: Yeah, yeah. Boy, look at that. I made that shot.
But you have these moments during your education you remember vividly. And I remember fourth grade. Ms. Betty Weaver was my teacher at Watkins Elementary in Midlothian, Virginia.
And Ms. Weaver believed in me. I might not have been trying very hard. She was tough. And she inspired me to try harder.
And after my dad lost his job, we moved down to Virginia Beach, and I was at Lynnhaven, now middle school, but junior high school at the time and I had a pretty good basketball game. And somebody recruited me to come play basketball at a private school called Norfolk Academy and it changed my life. It was such an opportunity.
I want to want go back --
TAPPER: There's the assistant --
YOUNGKIN: I had choice. Yeah. There you go.
I had choice. It was amazing. And Pat Hume, in ninth grade, gave me my first C. And she woke me up and she said, you can do a lot better if you try harder.
Basketball opened up all kinds of doors for me. It gave me a college scholarship to study mechanical engineering. I was telling folks earlier, I wanted to be an astronaut.
They didn't tell me that at 6'6", you're not going into a rocket. But it was an extraordinary benefit of the sport that really carried me a long way.
I love school. And I look back and I'm envious of all of you who are here in school. And I just again want to thank the students here tonight. You guys have been great, so thank you.
TAPPER: So for me, English with Ms. Wisecraw (ph), history with Doc Urvine (ph), my favorite subjects, two of my favorite teachers.
What was your favorite subject?
YOUNGKIN: I was a science guy. And I love science all the way up through college. But it's amazing the two teachers I remember weren't my science teachers. They were my general studies teacher in fourth grade and Mrs. Hume in English. And I probably was pressed the hardest and learned the most from folks that may have seen something in me that I didn't see and challenged me.
And so, yes, for those teachers that are here tonight, I'll repeat what I said earlier. There's going to be students that will remember you forever. And so, thank you for changing lives.
TAPPER: And he's clearly also saying give more C's. Give more -- I'm just joking kids. Three kids, no, I'm not -- I'm joking about that.
I want you to meet Michael McCabe. He's a high school math teacher from Sterling, Virginia. He's a former foreign service officer and a Republican.
MICHAEL MCCABE, HIGH SCHOOL MATH TEACHER, REPUBLICAN VOTER: Thank you for being here, Governor.
In our school and other Virginia schools, we say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each day. Yet, we cannot require the students to say the pledge, to stand, to pay attention or to do anything except stop walking and be quiet. The people actually saying the pledge are the most teachers and a few students.
So, why not eliminate the requirement to say the pledge in Virginia schools?
YOUNGKIN: I like the Pledge of Allegiance. I think it's really important for us to remember that there are ideals that formed this nation. You know, it's not a geography. It was a nation that was formed by an idea.
And that's why I'm so focused on the fact that our history standards need to tell all of our history, the good and the bad, but also need to tell the full story of America, from its founding all the way through, from our funding documents, which are critical for us to understand. You know, we were a nation that was founded by imperfect men, a nation that is in pursuit of a more perfect union. And it's getting better and better and better every year.
Now, this is a -- this is about, I think, recognizing that America is exceptional. We've had some terribly dark moments, but it's exceptional. You know, I have to say this moment of standing up for our Constitution and standing for our Declaration of Independence is something I don't think should be controversial.
Just recently, one of my appointments to the state school board stood up in a school board meeting and advocated that we should teach about our Constitution and we should teach about our Declaration of Independence.
And all of a sudden, there was an effort made by left liberal Democrats to smear her and remove her, and they did just that just recently. And that's -- that's Suparna Dutta who's here with us tonight.
Ms. Suparna, I want to thank you for your service to Virginia.
(APPLAUSE) This -- this shouldn't be controversial. We should embrace our
history, all of it, the good and the bad. We should understand where we've come from. We should understand our founding documents. And, yes, we should say the Pledge of Allegiance.
TAPPER: So, your commonwealth is a little bit lackey in the sense you term-limit your governors after one term. They are only allowed to serve for one term. Well, you can do it one consecutive term.
So I do have to ask you, Governor. You pulled off a surprise come- from-behind upset victory in a state, a commonwealth that a lot of people thought was pretty solidly blue. Maybe it's purple now. You are term-limited.
Are you giving any thought to running for higher office such as president?
YOUNGKIN: Well, first of all, thank you for that humbling question. You know, I just have to say that, you know, 40 years ago I was in Virginia Beach, and I was washing dishes and taking out trash at Belvidere coffee shop.
And I had an extraordinary opportunity with great education and people took interest in my professional career and I thought I was in my dream job when I had a chance to take over a firm that I worked at for 25 years.
Then I found myself with this real clear view that Virginia was heading in the wrong direction and maybe there was a different way to do this. Maybe there was a way to bring people together around common sense, bring people together around values that aren't that controversial. We just need to express them clearly to one another and get moving.
And I've been so pleased by the fact that all the things we campaigned on we accomplished. I have a big job. I love my job.
Thank you for hiring me. Thank you for letting me come to work every day and go to work for 8.7 million Virginians. That's where my focus is right now.
And I believe there was an enormous amount of work yet to do in Virginia. We've got a budget to negotiate. We have 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. And so, again, thank you for hiring me.
TAPPER: Until the end there, it sounded like a yes on the president thing. But you certainly haven't ruled it out is what I'm saying here. No? YOUNGKIN: Well, I have to say -- let's see, Jake, I'm not writing a
TAPPER: Right, okay. So that's -- right.
YOUNGKIN: In fact, the book I'm hoping to write is the book we're talking about right now, the playbook for education. That's the playbook we should all write together that recognizes the most important thing that we are focused on, is the education of our children.
You know, when our children gain the skills, gain the confidence, gain the capabilities to aspire, set goals and dream and then go chase them, well, then we know we've been successful. We have a long way to go, but I am so proud of what we have done in our first year. All it does is raise the bar and want me to get more done faster in our second year, so we don't lose a generation of kids, and that Virginia can return to what she once was which was a place where people came from all over the world to come to Virginia for our schools, for our great K through 12, for our great universities.
This is what we should collectively aspire for, and I can't wait to work with all of you to help bring that about.
TAPPER: I want to thank the parents. I want to thank the teachers and faculty.
Most importantly, I want to thank the three brave students we have here. And I want to thank everybody here.
I also want to thank Governor Glenn Youngkin for joining us tonight.
YOUNGKIN: Thank you.
TAPPER: Thank you so much.
"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota starts right now.