Two candidates with backgrounds in educational policy are running for Washington state schools chief this fall. Chris Reykdal and Erin Jones both appear well qualified to lead the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Each brings skills and perspective that our state needs, and they share a passion for improving the way schools can make students’ lives better than they grew up with.
Voters could be well served by either, but we favor Reykdal of Tumwater. The one-time classroom teacher has served on the Tumwater School Board and as a Democrat in the state House for the past six years.
He was endorsed by state Superintendent Randy Dorn and his two OSPI predecessors, by former governor Chris Gregoire, by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and by minority organizations and teacher unions.
Reykdal sees the office’s nonpartisan role as a source of good data for policymakers in the executive and legislative branches and for local governments. And he wants to advocate for adequate school funding, career and technical education and closing gaps in educational opportunity for those who are growing up poor and need help finding success.
While in the House he served recently as vice chairman of the House Education Committee, and he has co-authored legislation to reduce student testing, including a plan in 2015 that dropped the biology exam as a requirement for graduation. That let about 2,000 students graduate who met all other requirements.
Jones is a Lacey resident and strong in her own right. She also champions full funding of schools and wants pieces of the educational bureaucracy to work better together to promote learning. She wants to bring new vision to the office, and she is an advocate for closing the achievement and opportunity gap that is reflected in the lower academic test scores for poorer students, including minority students.
Jones also brings real-world experience as a former teacher, as an assistant superintendent at OSPI in charge of a program, and having worked with innovative schools and minority groups around the state. Her endorsements include many Democratic groups, current and former state lawmakers of both parties, and several groups dedicated to the interests of minority children.
Reykdal has a key advantage because of his greater legislative experience. His background overseeing capital budgets for the community college system gives him more administrative experience than Jones.
Jones’ advantages include her more extensive work with students facing academic and life challenges. She has built relationships with minority and other education groups around the state, and her education experience comes from both inside and outside the public school system.
Despite her enthusiasm for education, Jones missed several opportunities to vote on public school bonds or levies for North Thurston Public Schools, where her children were enrolled. Reykdal has used this to question her commitment to local schools, but Jones quickly acknowledged to us that she was “irresponsible” not to vote.
On charter schools, Reykdal has been opposed, wanting local school board oversight. Jones has worked with interests that favor them as an alternative form of education, but she says she wants to improve existing public-school alternative programs.
All said, our preference is for Reykdal.