VA Candidates for Governor Answer Questions about Kids and Families

By: Ursula Ellis, Director of State Campaigns

An audience of some 250 greeted Virginia gubernatorial candidates Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam Friday afternoon, September 8, as they arrived at Reynolds Community College in Richmond to discuss issues affecting kids and families. Specifically, the candidates answered questions on child poverty, the achievement gap, foster care, and mental illness posed by a panel of high-school and college students.

Sponsored by Voices for Virginia’s Children, the Candidate Forum was set up to avoid a back and forth between candidates, having them appear sequentially rather than side by side. They received the questions in advance and had the opportunity to provide opening and closing comments.

In the relaxed, non-confrontational atmosphere of the forum, similarities of the candidates’ stances seemed far more prevalent than differences. It was clear both felt the issues were important and deserved attention. The differences appeared in how each would address the issues. Asked what they would do to close the achievement gap among well-off students versus those from poorer backgrounds, Gillespie called for more charter schools and Northam espoused access for all to quality early education. Replying to a question about alleviating the toxic stress of poverty, Northam’s answer was to visit those in need. He bemoaned the fact that there wasn’t enough money to visit all and said that funding the program would be a priority for him. Pointing to the work of Communities in Schools, Gillespie said we should look to partnerships between government and the private sector.

On other topics, Gillespie said that keeping kids in school rather than suspending them would help increase the graduation rate. Northam said that the school-to-prison pipeline needed to be changed to the school-to-career pipeline. On healthcare, Northam felt it would be greatly enhanced if Virginia were to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, giving an additional 400,000 people access to care. Gillespie felt that Virginia youth suffering from mental health, would be most helped if the funding follow the person.

Watch the entire forum below. Your next opportunity to learn more about the candidates’ views is the debate taking place on September 19, in Northern Virginia, where Chuck Todd will moderate.

Keep an eye on your e-mails for more information and for our request of you to tweet the moderator, asking him to ask candidates a question on childcare and early education.