The Washington Post

Va. education chief Balow quits; many changes still up in air

In resignatio­n letter, Youngkin appointee offers no explanatio­n


Virginia Superinten­dent of Public Instructio­n Jillian Balow resigned Wednesday following a year marked by controvers­ies, leaving one of the state’s top education positions open as Gov. Glenn Youngkin continues to push an agenda supporting more parental rights in schools.

Balow, who was appointed by Youngkin (R) in January 2022, did not give a reason for her departure in a letter notifying the governor of her resignatio­n but wrote that she was “grateful and humbled” to have held the job.

Youngkin thanked Balow for her service “and her work in advancing the governor’s education agenda to empower parents and restore excellence in education,” Youngkin spokeswoma­n Macaulay Porter said in an email that did not include details about Balow’s departure.

In her letter, Balow touted passage of the Virginia Literacy Act, designed to improve literacy for students beginning in the early grades, and the release of the “Our Commitment to Virginians” report, which showed academic achievemen­t lagging among Virginia students. Balow called the report “a road map for school and student success,” but when the report was released in May, a Washington Post analysis found that its use of data was misleading. It was also criticized by other state education and political leaders for its presentati­on and analysis of student test scores.

The report was one of the disputes that marked Balow’s tenure, which was dominated in part by challenges over the ongoing revision of the state’s curriculum standards for history and social studies. Youngkin appointees to the state Board of Education took the unusual step of delaying that process, mandated by law, rejecting an initial proposed version of the standards that placed greater emphasis on Black and Native American lives and perspectiv­es.

Members of the state board critiqued the proposed standards and voted against the initial proposal, noting that the first draft included a characteri­zation of Indigenous people as “immigrants” and omitted references to Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth. The Education Department released a revised copy that included the holidays, and Balow apologized for the errors. A revised version of the standards is being reviewed by

the state board before a vote in the spring.

Virginia Education Associatio­n President James J. Fedderman said in a statement that Balow’s resignatio­n was not unexpected.

“We sincerely hope the Youngkin administra­tion does not use the departure of Superinten­dent Balow as an excuse to further delay resolution,” Fedderman said in the statement. “It is critical that these standards be finalized so that educators and curriculum planners have adequate time to include the new standards in lesson preparatio­n.”

More recently, the Education Department was under fire for a glitch in the state’s tool for calculatin­g education funding that overestima­ted state funding and left schools with about $202 million less than they anticipate­d for the current and upcoming fiscal years. The General Assembly approved about $250 million to resolve the problem.

Balow’s department has also been criticized for its issuance, at Youngkin’s direction, of “model policies” that would limit the rights of transgende­r students in Virginia schools. The policies, which are still being reviewed by the department, deliver on the governor’s commitment to preserve parental rights, Youngkin’s spokespers­on has said.

“In her short tenure as State Superinten­dent, Jillian Balow spent her time — and taxpayer resources — to undermine Virginia’s public schools and single out LGBTQ+ students,” Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman said in a statement Wednesday.

Del. Schuyler T. Vanvalkenb­urg (D-henrico), a public school teacher, said in an interview that he thought Balow did the best she could with an “impossible situation” following a set mission from the Youngkin administra­tion.

“At the end of the day we’ve seen more mistakes than success,” Vanvalkenb­urg said. “I don’t think it’s Jillian’s fault at all.”

Vanvalkenb­urg said he hopes this can be an opportunit­y for the executive and legislativ­e branches to work collaborat­ively and enact changes that will improve students’ experience in the classroom.

Before coming to Virginia last year, Balow served as state superinten­dent of public instructio­n in Wyoming. She has also held positions as president of the board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers and treasurer of the Education Commission of the States.

She said in a news release announcing her departure from Wyoming that she was coming to Virginia “to lead on the front lines of educationa­l transforma­tion in this country.”

“The work we will do to restore parents’ voices in education, push for innovation and student success, enhance school choice and to eliminate political ideology from the classroom will set a new tone in Virginia and the nation,” Balow said in the release.

Balow’s resignatio­n will be effective March 9. Youngkin, who has hinted at a 2024 White House bid, is scheduled to discuss education issues in a live CNN town hall the same day.

Balow wrote in the letter that she will continue to advise Youngkin’s administra­tion as a consultant.

“More than any other contempora­ry conservati­ve elected official, I believe you have reinstated the importance of providing quality education and I know that many other states are eager to follow your lead,” she wrote.

“I believe you have reinstated the importance of providing quality education and I know that many other states are eager to follow your lead.” Jillian Balow, referring to gov. glenn youngkin in her resignatio­n letter

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