In comparing credentials of the candidates for state superintendent of public instruction, incumbent Chris Reykdal stands out. The same is true about his vision for Washington schools, leading The Columbian Editorial Board to recommend Reykdal for reelection to the nonpartisan position.
As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian trusts that voters will study the candidates and the issues before casting an informed ballot for the Nov. 3 election.
Reykdal has been a public school teacher, spent 14 years as an executive in the community and technical college system and served six years in the Legislature before being elected as superintendent in 2016. As he writes on his campaign website: “I have experienced education in this state from nearly every perspective. … I am the first state superintendent in more than 50 years with children in our public K-12 system subject to the policies, decisions, and outcomes of my leadership.”
Of course, the value of experience depends upon the person wielding it. Reykdal has performed well over the past four years in making continuing advancements for Washington schools, with expansions to early learning; a legislative fix to the McCleary v. Washington court decision regarding school funding; and increased emphasis on closing inequities to ensure each Washington student receives a high-quality education.
“What does all this sit on? It sits on equity,” Reykdal said during a remote interview with the editorial board. He also noted that statewide high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.
But much work remains. Remote learning dictated by the coronavirus pandemic has revealed continuing resource gaps and inequities between students and school districts, and flaws remain in the McCleary fix. Reykdal rightly focuses on the need for additional spending for special needs students, and his emphasis on empirical research into education policy allows him to rise above partisan tropes.
Challenger Maia Espinoza, on the other hand, offers a less cohesive vision for public education. Her campaign largely focuses on her opposition to Referendum 90, in which voters will be asked whether to overturn a new law requiring age-appropriate sex education in all public school districts. Reykdal supported the bill that was passed by the Legislature this year and said he supports Referendum 90, which includes the ability for parents to have their children opt out of the curriculum.
Regardless of whether or not the candidates support comprehensive sex education, the decision rests with voters. The state superintendent will be beholden to that decision, making the issue rather irrelevant to this race.
Beyond that, Espinoza told the editorial board that she supports a voucher of $2,500 per student that could be used at private schools, saying the money could be found in current budgets. Reykdal said that would cost about $2.5 billion. Espinoza also wants to “reimagine education” but offers scant details in interviews or on her website.
Reykdal demonstrates a deeper knowledge of the challenges facing public schools, whether in the classroom or during the budgeting process. He also recognizes the importance of developing policy guidelines and then working with the Legislature to see that they are adopted. “We built a strategic plan, and we’ve got bipartisan support for it,” he said.
Because of his experience and his ability to work with lawmakers, Chris Reykdal is the clear choice for state superintendent. The Columbian Editorial Board recommends that he be reelected.