An optimist arrives on school funding

Chris Reykdal
Chris Reykdal

State Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater is already transitioning into the new role he formally assumes next month as state schools superintendent. Voters elected the former teacher, community college system administrator and Democrat on Nov. 8.

We think the three-term House member has a good, clear message for state legislators on K-12 school funding: Finish the job.

Though we’ve shared our pessimism on this page about the divided Legislature’s capacity to do the right thing under the state Constitution, which means fully funding K-12 schools, Reykdal is more optimistic.

He notes that the Legislature has dramatically increased state investments in K-12 public schools by many billions of dollars since the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in the McCleary case. Now, legislators are in the final stretch of complying with the court’s orders to fully fund basic education by 2018.

Having seen some of Gov. Jay Inslee’s pending proposals that would boost the state’s share of funds for K-12 schools, while reducing the reliance on local voter-approved school levies, Reykdal says he is hopeful that full funding is in reach. He expects at least $1.75 billion a year is needed.

Reykdal says that during his campaign against rival Erin Jones he was on the road for 37,000 miles, talking to voters and educators in communities throughout the state. In both urban and rural settings and on both sides of the state, he never heard anyone say the state didn’t need more funds for education.

Though he declined to divulge details of Inslee’s plans, which become public this week, Reykdal says what he’s seen shows a “very honest” response to the court and the underlying problem.

Inslee has been public in saying he thinks the state property tax could conceivably serve as a partial replacement for the local levies, which the state has overly relied on, earning the court’s ire. But Inslee also thinks new resources are needed to finish the job.

Reykdal has advocated for new sources of revenue for schools as a lawmaker, and so has outgoing state schools chief Randy Dorn — with limited success. Some lawmakers are already pushing back against increasing taxes for schools. One Senate Republican wants to amend the Constitution so that only the Legislature can decide what is adequate.

So stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Reykdal has begun assembling a management team that shows great promise.

It includes the House Democratic Caucus’ chief of staff, Jamila Thomas, who will serve as chief of staff at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Reykdal has also recruited former North Thurston teacher Michaela Miller, who recently directed the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Miller becomes deputy superintendent.

Thomas and Miller will serve as co-equals — with Thomas, whom he praised for efficiency, handling business operations, while Miller oversees education policy and professional standards.

Another addition is Dave Mastin as director of governmental affairs. Mastin is a former lawmaker from Walla Walla who switched parties to join Republicans during the mid-1990s. Mastin rose to deputy leader of the House Republican Caucus under then-co-speaker Clyde Ballard during the Republican-Democratic tie of 1999-2001, and has run a consulting firm since 2005.

Reykdal says his priorities reflect what he talked about in the campaign, starting with full funding of schools. Secondly he wants to boost community and technical education, providing an alternative pathway to graduation and later job training for high school students. This includes some integrating of computer science and math programs.

Third is reducing the importance of assessment, or test, requirements as a condition for high school graduation. Reykdal wants to see lawmakers embrace more alternatives to tests so that students who do not meet standardized test goals can earn diplomas by spending senior years in rigorous courses in the problem subject areas.

In a sign of progress toward Reykdal’s second goal, outgoing state schools chief Randy Dorn adopted the state’s first computer education standards last week. These grew out of bipartisan legislation from nearly two years ago.

The standards set targets for student learning about computers. Kindergarten through second-grade students would learn the basic differences between a tablet and desktop computer, with higher standards imposed as students move to higher grades.

Importantly the standards should make things easier to let students to dual earn credit in analogous subjects such as algebra and mathematics when taking courses in computer coding.

All of these are worthy goals.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle need to welcome Reykdal — as well as the goal of full state funding for basic education.