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