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Candidates for state superintendent of education have similar goals, different approaches

Candidates Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal share a light moment before Tuesday’s debate. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Candidates Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal share a light moment before Tuesday’s debate. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The two candidates for the state superintendent of public instruction expressed similar end goals, but different methods, in a debate Tuesday.

State Rep. Chris Reykdal and Erin Jones debated for an hour and a half Tuesday evening at an event hosted by Greater Spokane Incorporated at the Lincoln Center.

Reykdal, 44, has served three terms in the state House of Representatives and is an administrator for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. He spoke about the importance of increasing funding for education both at the federal and state level, while also keeping local control and investment.

“We need a better federal partner,” he said. “We need a state that is committed to this.”

Jones, 45, is a former Rogers High School teacher who won the prestigious Milken Educator Award while working as a literacy coach at Rogers in 2007. She now works as a teaching coach and program administrator for the Tacoma School District.

She is the first African-American woman to run for statewide office and emphasized the importance of a clear educational vision. Jones spoke about her time teaching at Rogers. Despite the high poverty in the school she said the vision and clarity of the leadership benefited the students.

“We had a really clear vision, so our young people were able to see a path,” she said.

As superintendent she said she would solicit district-level solutions to education issues. She said traveling throughout the state, she’s seen organizational overlap.

“I think we’ve really missed an opportunity to learn from one another,” Jones said.

Jones also advocates for more minority involvement.

“We’ve had the same voices at the table for so long,” she said.

Reykdal also advocated local control. However, he emphasized the importance of the superintendent offering funding, in addition to direction.

“I think we owe them a starting point,” he said.

Reykdal said he would support changing state funding formulas that allocate money to districts based on enrollment. Specifically he said richer and larger districts have an advantage, both because they have more students and because they have a larger tax base. Changing the funding formula could help reduce the state’s reliance on levy funding, something the McCleary decision has mandated happen.

Jones, on the other hand, said she would try and freeze the levy to avoid the upcoming levy cliff. Like Reykdal she believes the education system needs more money but she doesn’t think the state will fully fund basic education in the coming legislative session.

“We need to work with stakeholders to make sure we have a really articulated plan,” Jones said.

Both candidates expressed hesitation about charter schools, although they praised Spokane’s model in which the schools are overseen by the district.

“Spokane is a good example of how it should work,” Jones said.

Reykdal said he wants to study the economic impacts of charter schools, not just on larger urban districts, but on smaller districts as well.

Reykdal spoke several times about the importance of career and technical education. When asked how to improve math education in the state, he talked about the possibilities CTE education provides for hands-on experience.

“When kids can do math in a multitude of ways, then we know we’re achieving something for our students,” he said.

Jones, responding to the same question, talked about changing the culture around math education.

“We are the only country where we talk about not really being a math person,” she said. “I think how we even frame the conversation about math for our early learners is critical.”

A question about how to increase graduation rates for special education students revealed the clearest differences in approach between the two candidates. Reykdal emphasized the importance of increasing funding for special education services; Jones spoke about integrating services and expanding training for school staff.

“We need a better federal partner,” Reykdal said. “We need a state that is committed to this.”

Both candidates want to increase pay for teachers, particularly starting teachers, in an effort to address the state’s teacher shortage.

The nonpartisan job pays $132,000 per year and oversees about $9 billion.

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