A Virginia Republican is running an education-based campaign to restore the reputation of his local school districts, typically deemed as among the best in the nation.
Jim Myles, who is seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, was inspired by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s platform last year on parental choice in schools, which is credited for helping him achieve an upset win against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“Schools are a big thing for a lot of us because the schools here are suffering. Kids are getting worse and worse, and we’re losing students. When you’re losing students and kids are getting worse, it’s time for a change,” Mr. Myles said.
Education has remained a top issue for Republicans running for office across the country, since it became a flash point in Virginia’s governor’s race last year.
U.S. News & World Report ranked Fairfax County Public Schools as having the best high schools in Virginia and in the country in 2022, though Northern Virginia made national headlines last year for becoming a hub of activism for parents angry at mask mandates, school policies on transgenderism and curricula that incorporated Critical Race Theory.
Performance trackers by the National Assessment of Educational Progress have shown that the pandemic-related school closures and virtual classes had cost two decades worth of gains in students’ learning abilities in math and reading.
The decline spanned across all races and socioeconomic levels, with top-performing students seeing a modest drop and the lowest-performing students seeing a 12-point drop in their math skills.
Mr. Myles is hoping to make education an issue that can reach beyond Republican voters.
“Schools are the number one issue because that’s the future for our children and that cuts across all demographics,” he said. “Republican, Democrat, independent, rich, poor, Black, White, it doesn’t matter. We all want our children to be successful.”
Mr. Myles, who faces an uphill battle to unseat Mr. Connolly in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 15 percentage points, accused him of lacking an effort in his campaigning because of the reliably blue nature of the area.
“With my opponent, he’s silent for everything. He’s not even running this year. He’s just waiting it out, hoping there’s enough Democrats to vote him in for another term in office. He’s been there for 14 years, and it’s just getting worse and worse,” Mr. Myles said.
Mr. Connolly’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Mr. Connolly has also made education a central platform during his time in office.
He has sought to expand early childhood education, propose universal pre-K, and lowering tuition costs to ensure students’ a pathway to college.
The congressman, who is seeking an eighth term in Congress, has accused Republicans of using schools to wage culture-war politics and earlier this year, attacked Mr. Youngkin on taking credit for Democrats’ work to provide federal funding to schools.
“That record $16 billion surplus you inherited and the ‘state’ funding for schools is, in large part, because Democrats in Congress passed the American Rescue Plan. [Northern Virginia] students shouldn’t be held hostage for your culture war,” Mr. Connolly tweeted at the governor.
Mr. Myles, an Air Force veteran and retired federal judge, said he moved to Fairfax County because he was attracted to its strong school systems.
The candidate began attending school board meetings during the pandemic, and found concerns with students’ classroom curricula, as well as local leadership which he argues has an ideologically liberal bias.
From the federal level, Mr. Myles vowed to appoint staff dedicated to Virginia’s 11th District school community.
He also hopes to see investigations into the pandemic’s impact on education and steer votes against any funding that targets parents’ involvement in schools.
Mr. Myles also criticized the Biden administration’s actions against parents at school board meetings, after the Justice Department last year announced, at the behest of Democratic-leaning school boards, a crackdown on threats against elected local officials based on anti-terrorism laws.
“I would be so against that. We don’t need the FBI to go after parents,” Mr. Myles said.
The Republican also is criticizing local officials regarding LGBT issues in schools.
The Biden administration and Democrats have argued that federal civil rights law requires that schools act toward students based on their preferred gender identity rather than biological sex.
Mr. Myles said gender ideology is an issue that should be taken up with a student’s family, rather than in schools.
“Kids are very impressionable at that age. There’s boys and there’s girls and we need to establish that in our schools,” he said. “If there’s other issues, then we can work with that at a family level and then after they’re 18, perhaps these other alternative lifestyles are better addressed by adults.”
“But they don’t belong in our schools,” Mr. Myles said.