RICHMOND, Va. — While addressing Virginia's General Assembly in Richmond Monday afternoon, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) laid out an agenda focusing on more funding for education and charter schools, listening to parents, cutting regulations for businesses, and increasing funding for local police departments.
In his first speech to the assembly, Youngkin pledged to work with Republicans and Democrats to "usher in a sweeping vision of change" for the Commonwealth.
"We are all part of team Virginia," Youngkin said. "We know on some issues there'll be deep disagreements. But I believe this chamber is big enough to talk through our differences."
After he was sworn in Saturday, Youngkin signed 11 executive actions that ranged from controlling what's taught in schools to launching an investigation into how Loudoun County Public Schools handled incidents of sexual assault.
He invoked "parents rights" in many orders, including one that makes mask-wearing optional in all Virginia Public Schools starting Jan. 24. So far, many Northern Virginia School districts —including Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington Public Schools — have doubled down that they are maintaining their mask mandates.
While campaigning, Youngkin said he met with Virginians all over the Commonwealth and found that everyone he spoke with expressed a "desire for Virginia worthy of its people."
"They’re genuinely concerned that the cold halls of government are disconnected from the cold realities families face while sitting at their kitchen tables every day," the governor said.
While Virginia has a record amount of funding, he said voters still have stagnant incomes with a growing cost of living.
"They see an economy whose growth has stalled at less than 1% per year for eight years," Youngkin said. "They see declining schools, they see violent crime reports dominating the news, they see record low labor participation, they see small businesses struggling, and they see government failures and encroachments on their liberties."
The governor said "times are tough" for average Virginia families. He promised to lower taxes for Virginia families and invest in schools, safe communities and the economy.
Youngkin said Democrats and Republicans "share a common goal to leave a better Virginia for our children."
He said, "unelected political appointees" have lowered Virginia's educational standard and he plans to invest in classrooms.
According to Youngkin, 60% of Virginia students are not meeting national proficiency standards, especially students of color. He said 60% of Latino students and 80% of Black students have failed "to meet standard on the math NAEP tests."
The governor proposed $150 million in funding to create 20 new charter schools in the state. He noted that students from Green Run Collegiate Charter School in Virginia Beach were in the audience to watch the speech. The school shares a facility with Green Run High School.
"They have an innovative curriculum. They provide access to every child in the school district to attend the collegiate program. They’re thriving and their parents are thrilled," Youngkin said. "We’re going to build partnerships between the commonwealth and our great universities to create lab schools of excellence."
The governor promised to sign a "record investment in education" for the commonwealth which would include a pay increase for teachers.
"We will pay teachers as the professionals that they are."
He promised parents he will protect their right to make decisions about how their children are educated.
"Virginia's parents want our history—all of our history—the good and the bad to be taught and they want our children to be taught how to think, not what to think."
The governor said parents are the reason he signed an executive order "formalizing that we should not use inherently divisive concepts in schools including Critical Race Theory and why we should not be teaching our children to see everything through a lens of race."
He wants parents to be informed of when children see "sexually explicit content" in schools—which is likely a reference to a battle about LGBTQ books in libraries at Fairfax County Public Schools. Some parents alleged LGBTQ books contained pornography and pedophilia, but a review by FCPS determined these topics were not mentioned in the books in question.
One of the newly signed executive orders is to protect children from being recruited by sex trafficking organizations. The governor would like educators to receive training to see the signs of sex trafficking.
He would like to see school resource officers on the campus of every school in Virginia and he hopes law enforcement can be involved in approving school safety audits.
In an apparent reference to how sexual assault incidents were handled by LCPS, Younkin said he'd like to require by law that educators report to law enforcement when a child is preyed upon.
"No more cover-ups. No more sweeping it under the rug. Parents deserve to know if their child is at risk," he said.
The governor maintained that children need to remain open. He encouraged everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster, but said it is parents who should control health measures for children, which is why one of his executive actions allows for parents to opt-out of school mask mandates.
He said he opposes federal vaccine mandates for healthcare workers. The governor plans to address COVID-19 recognizing that the science "has not been static" and that there are now vaccines, therapeutics, and better tests.
"There are 1.6 million unvaccinated Virginians today," Youngkin said. "And speaking to you as your Governor, I’ll never tell you what you must do. But speaking to you as a friend and a neighbor I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine."
The governor said he'd "repeal needless regulation" and invest in job training. He said he is supportive of investing in "mega-sites."
Youngkin spoke in favor of right-to-work laws and said he would veto any bill "that creates forced unionizations." He promised to pass an association health plan bill that was vetoed eight times by his predecessor.
To remove some tax burdens faced by families, the governor said he would suspend "the recent gas tax increase for a year" and immediately eliminate the grocery tax. He said he'd also double the standard deduction for Virginians on their personal income tax and provide "the largest tax rebate in Virginia history."
Youngkin asked the General Assembly to help veterans by eliminating "the tax on the first $40,000 in military retirement pay."
He vowed to offer more funding for police departments and increase the pay of law enforcement officers.
The governor said, "Together, we should dedicate $100 million in ARPA funds to a training and equipment grant program for law enforcement. And provide capital funding for a new state police training facility."
Youngkin asked the General Assemby to provide $26 million for local police departments—but "only in localities that are increasing funding for their police departments."
He pledged $5 million to Operation Cease Fire to "fund community violence intervention." He also said that Inadequately funding police creates more lawlessness.
The governor said he also doesn't tolerate "lawlessness" in state agencies which is why he "fired the entire parole board" on Saturday.
"The violations of law and the Constitution, the unconscionable refusal to notify families, of victims about pending decisions to release murderers, were simply unacceptable," he said.
Younkin announced he appointed a Commonwealth chief transformation officer "to oversee government transformation."
He pledged to use federal funds to improve the Commonwealth's infrastructure and make it "the most reliable in the nation."
Youngkin did not mention climate change in his speech but said he "treasure[s] the natural beauty of Virginia.
"And my administration will dedicate itself to protecting and promoting it as a core principle of our service," he said.
The governor said he will end the practice of dumping raw sewage into the James River, will fund "best management practices on our farms" and will "see the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay to the finish line."
Youngkin thanked the lawmakers and urged them to "set aside ego and self-advancement" to make Virginia "better, stronger [and] freer."
"My friends in this esteemed legislature, I’m inspired to be with you this afternoon. And to be working with you to build a future of limitless opportunity and strengthen the spirit of Virginia."