State schools chief launches bid for a third term

Chris Reykdal helmed Washington’s schools through the pandemic. Now he wants to steer them out of the troubled waters of lower test scores and flagging enrollment.

By: - June 12, 2023 5:46 pm

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal (Reykdal campaign)

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal announced Monday he will seek a third term overseeing Washington’s public school system in 2024.

Reykdal sketched out an aggressive agenda including providing free meals for all students,  fully funding special education services, eliminating fees for Running Start participants and expanding opportunities for those wishing to become bilingual.

“There’s a lot left to do,” the 50-year-old Tumwater resident said Monday.

Reykdal, a Democrat and former state lawmaker, was narrowly elected to the nonpartisan post in 2016, beating Erin Jones by a single percentage point. He had an easier re-election in 2020, defeating Maia Espinoza by nearly 10 points.

Reykdal’s tenure has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic which upended the delivery of education to roughly 1.2 million students in Washington in ways that will be felt for years. 

Learning loss is broad and deep. Social and emotional challenges among students are widespread, and manifested in increased incidents of disruptive behavior. And closing campuses incited an exodus from public schools.

“It’s certainly been challenging getting through the pandemic,” Reykdal said. But he added: “The system is healthy.”

Graduation rates are at near record highs, assessment scores are rising and enrollment is re-accelerating, he said. And there is more access to college credit while in high school, and options to become a bilingual learner.
Going forward, his priorities for a third term include building out local and regional student mental health supports, expanding career and technical education and giving students greater flexibility in choosing which high school courses to take.

“To be the best, we have to keep innovating, transforming, and developing systems that support the unique needs of every single learner,” he said. 

As of Monday, Brad Klippert, a Republican and former state lawmaker from Kennewick, stood as his only opponent for the 2024 contest. Reykdal and Klippert are both former teachers.

Brad Klippert (Klippert campaign)

Klippert, 65, a staunch conservative, ran for Congress in 2022, losing in the primary. Then, last fall, he made an unsuccessful bid for secretary of state as a write-in candidate.

He said Monday he wasn’t thinking about this race until others encouraged him to step in “to save Washington education.”

“We’re tanking,” he said, noting assessment scores and enrollment are below pre-pandemic levels at most schools.

Klippert called for renewing the focus on reading, writing and math, as well as science, technology and engineering. 

“We need to empower our teachers to teach academics,” he said. “I see a lot of other things they are stressing that do not involve academics.”

He wants to improve transparency in the spending of public funds and strengthen the voice of parents in the education of their children.

“Parents know best, and we need to create an environment of respect for all cultures and value systems,” he wrote on his website.

In recent years, public schools have landed in the center of a national culture war with parents, educators and lawmakers dueling on the teaching of sex education, history of racism, and gender identity. 

Locally, anger with COVID-19 mandates for mask wearing and vaccines further fueled division, and stirred confrontations, some physical, at school board meetings. 

Reykdal anticipates this contest could become a proxy battleground too as candidates, armed with messaging of the political right push policies that “use students and educators as targets in their culture war.”

“We’re not taking rights away from kids,” he said. “We’re defending Washington’s approach to educating students and protecting Washington educators.”


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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.