Mike Pence blasts Terry McAuliffe in Loudoun County, promoting educational freedom

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Former Vice President Mike Pence knocked Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Thursday over his education record, tying the gubernatorial candidate to parental frustrations that have come to a boil in Loudoun County, Virginia.

Just days ahead of a critical election for the governorship, Mr. Pence invoked Mr. McAuliffe’s name twice during a roughly 20-minute speech on educational freedom at Patrick Henry College.

Terry McAuliffe said famously, ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,’” Mr. Pence said. “We believe that parents should be the ultimate authority.”

Mr. Pence did not mention Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. But he encouraged parents to “choose educational freedom,” clearly alluding to the decision to be made at the ballot box and the furor over local control.

Mr. McAuliffe also has made education the center of his campaign, promising to raise teacher pay and pour $2 billion in Virginia schools annually.

The race between Mr. McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, and Mr. Youngkin is  deadlocked, according to polls.

Mr. Pence accused Mr. McAuliffe of promoting the teachings of critical race theory in schools while he served as governor. Critical race theory is a 1970s academic thesis that teaches students that U.S. institutions are inherently racist, and has been the subject of much of the parental disapproval in Loudoun County.

Virginia public schools, however, have largely denied teaching critical race theory curricula.

“When Terry McAuliffe was governor, the Virginia Department of Education encouraged schools to embrace critical race theory,” Mr. Pence said. “And just recently, he said that talking about diversity to kindergarteners was as important as your math and English class.”

Mr. Pence encouraged parents to seek out a patriotic education for their children, whether that means demanding more from public educators or homeschooling as an alternative.

The former vice president issued a stark warning that parents must make their choice, which begins in the upcoming election.

“You’ve reminded America that we have a choice,” Mr. Pence said. “Make the choice Virginia. Let’s choose educational freedom for this generation.”

Mr. Youngkin has weaponized Mr. McAuliffe’s comments at their final debate, in which he said parents should not have a say in determining what is taught in public schools.

More recently, Mr. Youngkin has attacked Mr. McAuliffe over being silent on recent rape allegations that surfaced in Loudoun County public schools.

A 15-year-old male student stands accused of of sexually assaulting a female student in a bathroom while he was wearing skirt. A judge this week upheld the accusation and set sentencing for next month.

The controversy resulted in a public apology and the resignation of a Loudoun County school board member, though Mr. Youngkin and Mr. Pence called for more resignations of anyone held responsible over the alleged incidents. It also contributed to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s warning that the FBI would get involved nationwide to investigate threats of violence against school board members.

Vicky Thornhill, 65, who attended Mr. Pence’s speech with her husband, said despite not having her own children in schools, education is one of her top concerns in the state.

“I’m constantly concerned about leaving a legacy for the future generation,” Ms. Thornhill said. “I feel that continually, America is falling behind on education.”

Alleigh Marré, president of the parents’ advocacy group Free to Learn, commended Mr. Pence on his comments, calling educational freedom the issue at Virginia’s epicenter.

“Securing educational freedom has never been more important and nowhere is that more clear than Virginia,” Ms. Marre said in a statement.

Susan Friesen, 62, of Loudoun County, said parents’ input in schools has become a cause that’s increasingly important to her.

Ms. Friesen said she was struck by some Mr. McAuliffe’s surrogates, who’ve stumped for him in recent days, as dismissing the parental activism. She particularly noted former President Barack Obama calling it “fake outrage” during a campaign speech for Mr. McAuliffe this month.

“When you have President Obama coming to stump for him and saying parents are making a big deal out of nothing, that’s Terry McAuliffe’s opinion,” Ms. Friesen said. “He’s having people stump for him that shows where he is.”

A recent poll from Emerson College/Nexstar media had Mr. Youngkin and Mr. McAuliffe tied at 48% each.

The poll, conducted Oct. 22-23, surveyed 875 likely Virginia voters, and carried an error margin of +/-3.2%.

Early voting has been underway in Virginia. Election Day is Tuesday.

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