Washington voters will choose between incumbent Chris Reykdal and challenger Maia Espinoza this general election for Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Reykdal got 40.2 percent of the votes in the primary. Espinoza got 25.3.
“Probably by fifth or sixth grade I really realized that I wanted to be a part of public education, because I had such a good experience,” Reykdal said during a virtual debate the League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County hosted Monday. “I felt a sense of belonging and I knew I had teachers who really loved me and cared about me.”
He said his parents each had an eighth-grade education, and that he was the first in his family “to go straight to college.”
Reykdal taught in public school, and served on a public school board, in public higher education, in the Legislature, and with an education foundation.
“I’ve touched the system in so many ways,” he said. “My own children are public school students and have been their whole lives.”
Of his time as Superintendent of Public Instruction, he said: “I’m really proud of the first four years, with huge bipartisan support with record investments, we have really shored up compensation, we have brought tens of thousands more employees health care who didn’t have it, our students are graduating at record high rates.”
Reykdal also said that “students of color are graduating at a faster rate than at any other time, and we’re slowly and importantly closing those gaps.”
“We brought in dual language programs, transitional kindergarten, we brought career and technical education back as a pathway to graduation, and we’ve delinked those high-stakes federally mandated standardized tests,” he said.
Introducing herself at the debate, Espinoza said: “As a mom with two kids in public school right now, struggling with the online school as I’m sure so many of your kids are … education is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now. But I jumped into this race to re-imagine an education system that works for all of our students.”
She said she thinks “it’s high time that we do something creative and imaginative and transformative in our education system,” and that “we know that we have more money than ever in public education, thanks to the McCleary decision.”
“I think the priority needs to be in the students, and as a mom, as a former teacher, as a business owner, a nonprofit leader, I think I have the full gamut of experience to lend to this role,” she said. “It takes the brilliant minds around us that I’m excited to put to work in our state.”
The Associated Press has reported that Espinoza was not a licensed teacher, but one day a week taught a music class at a Catholic school in Lacey. The AP also reported last month that the Center for Latino Leadership that Epinoza founded did not have federal tax-exempt status as a 501(c)3, and that Espinoza said the organization had been trying to get it.
Asked during the debate about OSPI’s role in supporting students, teachers and parents during the coronavirus pandemic, Reykdal said they work with the Department of Health, Labor and Industries and others to: “try to create very clear guidance, which we have done on both how to reopen, how to determine as a community when it’s safe to reopen … and then we try to tear down some barriers, try to add flexibility so that districts can really optimize their resources.”
He went on to say: “You’re seeing more and more school districts open up now as their case counts come down, but it really is a function of all of us working together here. The job of OSPI is not direct teaching, that’s local control. School Boards make those tough choices on how to go, the pace to go, the relationship with their local health authority.”
Espinoza said during the debate that: “school closures are an assault on working families,” and that it’s disproportionately affecting women and communities of color.
She said she’s “been fighting to reopen schools in a safe and sensible way,” and that “If elected the first thing that I’ll be doing is working with local school districts on the ground that are ready to reopen.”
Asked by the moderator about Referendum 90, about the recently passed law for comprehensive sexual health education in schools, Espinoza she supports rejecting R-90.
“It’s not because I’m opposed to teaching sex ed in school or that I don’t think there’s improvement that we can do in our sex ed curriculum,” she said. “… It does not enhance local control. While districts may choose the curriculum that fits within this law, it’s quite specific and if districts are unhappy or their communities rather are unhappy with these options, they’re required to come up with one on their own, at their own expense, and get it approved through OSPI.”
She also argued at the debate that “the approved curriculum under this legislation or that would comply with this legislation, as parents, we do not think these things are age appropriate. … Famously there’s one I talk about where fourth graders are exposed to sexual positions. And yes, this is third-party material, but it corresponds with the curriculum as taught or as approved by the Superintendent’s Office.”
Reykdal sued Espinoza earlier this year for her statement in the voter’s guide that he supported a policy to teach sexual positions to fourth graders, the AP reported. A lower court found the statement false, but ultimately the state Supreme Court decided Reykdal hadn’t proven that the statement was defamatory, and did not rule about whether it was false, the AP reported.
Part of OSPI’s website says: “Several social media posts inserted illustrations from a book intended for parents and guardians into a lesson plan for 4th graders. The book was one of several optional books on a handout for parents and guardians wishing to continue talking with their child about puberty and reproduction. The book is not part of a lesson, curriculum, or instruction that a teacher or school would provide to a student. Images showing sexual positions would never be used in Washington state classrooms. Other graphic images in social media posts are from websites and not part of the curriculum itself. Students are never provided ‘how-to’ instruction related to sex.”
Reykdal said at the debate that he’s a “yes” on R-90, that the sexual health education bill was worked on for two years, and that he “would encourage folks to do their research and make an informed vote about that.”
He said the OSPI Healthy Youth Survey found 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys report “that they are the victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, or sexual violence or unwanted touching by the time they graduate from our system. We have a public health crisis here.”
Education, he said, “is ultimately how you can help young people and help families and help communities. This bill, like 29 other states, requires some form of sexual health education.”
He said in kindergarten through third grade it’s “social emotional learning,” a requirement that came from Republican lawmakers that teaches “keeping your hands to yourself, don’t bully, and how to control your emotions, and do you have somebody safe to talk to in case you feel uncomfortable about something.”
The requirements call for one lesson plan in fourth and fifth grade and two in middle school and high school.
“Age appropriate, medically accurate,” Reykdal said, noting that local districts get to choose their curriculum, and that “parents get the right to opt out of any or all of it.”
He said that his “opponent and her allies have been very aggressive, and I give them credit for gathering signatures, that is the beauty of our civic system. But the dishonesty is remarkable. … They grabbed images out of a third-party book, slapped it on something that looks like OSPI letterhead, put it on Facebook, and said that this is what your children are going to be taught. It is dishonest, it is wrong, it is unethical.”
Fundraising and endorsements
Recent state Public Disclosure Commission records showed Reykdal had raised $222,747 and spent $57,758. Espinoza had raised $166,443 and spent $156,235.
Reykdal’s endorsements include former Gov. Christine Gregoire, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, former State Superintendents of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, Judith Billings and Randy Dorn, and U.S. Reps. Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer.
He’s also endorsed by State Senator Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, Vice Chair Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), House Education Committee Chair Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle), Vice Chair Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington)
State Representatives Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), Christine Kilduff (D-University Place), Steve Kirby (D-Tacoma), Mari Leavitt (D-University Place), and Beth Doglio (D-Olympia) also endorse Reykdal, as do State Senators Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma) and Sam Hunt (D-Olympia).
He’s also endorsed by various labor organizations, including the Washington Education Association, and more than 25 elected school board members, among others.
Some of Espinoza’s endorsements are from State Treasurer Duane Davidson, Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), and State Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn), who is the chief budget writer for House Republicans.
Others include State Senators Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn), Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch), chief budget writer for Senate Republicans John Braun (R-Centralia), Doug Ericksen (R-Whatcom County), Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup), and State Representatives Morgan Irwin (R-Enumclaw), Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy), Jesse Young (R-Gig Harbor), and Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia).
Espinoza is also endorsed by several school board members and the Washington Farm Bureau, among others.
The General Election is Nov. 3. To register to vote, visit voter.votewa.gov.