Reykdal Touts "Relentless Passion to Close Barriers and Open Doors" in Re-election Bid for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Chris Reykdal is seeking re-election, touting his record on closing opportunity gaps, investing in student mental health, and promoting innovation. He aims to continue his work on fully funding education, technology integration and support for underserved students if re-elected.

Reykdal Touts "Relentless Passion to Close Barriers and Open Doors" in Re-election Bid for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Chris Reykdal, the incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, discussed his bid for re-election, highlighting his accomplishments and outlining his vision for the future of the state's K-12 education system.

The Superintendent leads the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which is responsible for implementing education policy, allocating school funding, setting academic standards, and working with the state's 295 school districts. If re-elected, Reykdal would continue his work on key initiatives, including fully funding basic education, keeping kids healthy and safe from violence, closing opportunity gaps, and leveraging technology to enhance learning. David Olson, Reid Saaris and John Patterson Blair are also running for the position. 

Fully funding schools remains a top priority for Reykdal, who stressed the need for targeted investments in special education and support for low-income students. "There really is this amazing opportunity to think differently about the funding system," he said, expressing hope that the Legislature will continue to prioritize education funding.

The Superintendent addressed the challenges faced by school districts, including budget constraints and teacher retention. "The big challenge is what happens if we have a recession? What happens if the cash flows to the state aren't going to be consistent?" Reykdal noted. "They look good right now, so we really have to capture that investment."

On the topic of teacher recruitment and retention, Reykdal stressed the importance of making education a competitive profession. "The first thing you have to do is make it a profession worth being a part of - so compensation, first and foremost, it's nuts and bolts stuff," he said. "We've really improved that a lot. You have to be competitive in the Pacific Northwest."

While Reykdal does not directly intervene in local district decisions, he emphasized the importance of protecting basic education requirements and encouraging districts to be as efficient as possible. "Generally, when we see school districts with a lot of elementary schools below 300 kids, we say - Yeah, that is not generally the most efficient way to run school systems," he noted.

The Superintendent expressed support for using school buildings to meet community needs, such as housing childcare programs. "If you're Seattle School District and you're going to have to consolidate because you have so many schools under 300 kids and you have an empty facility, and we have a child care provider... here's this incredible opportunity where something's been built by the taxpayers and the public sector," Reykdal said, highlighting the potential for partnerships between districts and childcare providers.

Reykdal touted the progress made during his tenure in closing opportunity gaps, citing advancements in early childhood education, universal dyslexia screening, and increased participation in accelerated programs and dual credit courses, and improved graduation rates. "From pre-K, to kindergarten readiness, to acceleration programs, to reading interventions, to dual credit, to graduation - we are absolutely closing gaps, and I'm very proud of our educators," he said.

Reykdal emphasized the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionize classroom instruction, while stressing the importance of a human-centered approach. "Paired with high-quality educators who are well-trained, which we do in our state with our high certification standards, we have the ability to use technology to complement learning and really understand where students are," he said.

Addressing the growing concern over student mental health, Reykdal pointed to investments in regional mental health networks, increased funding for school counselors and psychologists, and the integration of mental health literacy into learning standards. "We've invested more dollars at school district level, we've invested dollars regionally. And I'm really proud to say that our most recent survey of student mental health - they are recording some of the best numbers we've seen in the last five or six years," he said.

Reykdal expressed strong opposition to school vouchers, arguing that they lead to resegregation and divert taxpayer money to private institutions. On the topic of charter schools, Reykdal offered a more nuanced perspective, acknowledging that some perform well while others struggle, much like traditional public schools. However, he questioned the efficiency of having many small charter schools, particularly in districts facing consolidation pressures. "I'd still love to see a system where the first choice is to go to the school district and say - We want you to be the sponsor of this really innovative way of teaching and learning," Reykdal noted.

Discussing school safety and health, Reykdal pointed to the state's progress in improving air and water quality in schools, as well as investments in seismic retrofits and HVAC replacements. "I do think the air quality and water quality outcomes are first and foremost, a civil right, a human right. And then the learning outcomes are obvious when kids feel healthy and safe," he said.

The Superintendent also voiced support for universal free school meals, noting that he was one of the first state superintendents in the country to say this should be a universal goal for every state. "A part of going to school is that you eat. It's just human basics," Reykdal said. "We don't charge families for tissue, and flushing toilets, and turning on lights, and using heat or water. So our basic biology should be taken care of. The research is clear - this helps students academically, it reduces student discipline issues."

When asked about the differences between himself and his opponents, Reykdal pointed to his extensive experience in education, including serving on a school board, teaching, and working in the higher education system. He also highlighted his lived experience with poverty, stating, "I do think a lived experience through poverty at least gives me a window in saying - It's so visceral to me that it's not theoretical. It's not in a textbook. It's not research. It's not just data on paper."

The nonpartisan, top-two primary for Superintendent of Public Instruction will be on August 6th and the general election will be on November 5th, with the winner’s term starting in January 2025. You can register to vote or update your voter registration online at

About the Guest

Chris Reykdal

I grew up the youngest of eight children, and it was my public education that gave me a chance to break the cycle of poverty. I went on to be the first in my family to go straight to college. I put myself through college with multiple jobs, scholarships, grants, and student loans. It led me to teaching, graduate school, higher education administration, and service in the Washington State Legislature and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. But the truth is, nobody does this alone! I am the benefactor of a state and a community that was committed to giving me opportunity. That is the very definition of public education – the great equalizer. I have dedicated my entire life to public education so that I can break down barriers for every child.

Find Chris Reykdal on Twitter/X at @chrisreykdal.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction is a very important elected position in Washington state, overseeing a budget of over $17 billion and responsible for the education of more than 1 million K-12 students. The Superintendent leads the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, or OSPI, which is the primary agency charged with overseeing public K-12 education in Washington state. Working with the state's 295 public school districts and 6 state tribal education compact schools, OSPI plays a critical role in developing education policy, setting academic standards, and allocating school funding. In this pivotal election year, the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction will shape the future of public education in Washington for years to come. Key issues facing the next superintendent include working with school districts to navigate budgets left chronically underfunded by the State Legislature, closing opportunity gaps for underserved students, improving youth mental health, preparing students for careers in college, retaining teachers amid shortages and burnout, and more.

Today on Hacks & Wonks I sit down with Chris Reykdal, who is running for reelection. Reykdal began his professional career as a public school teacher, served on a local school board, was executive in our state's public community and technical college system, served 6 years in the legislature, and the last 7+ years as our State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Join us as we explore Reykdal's vision for moving education forward in Washington State, his experience in the role, how he plans to address the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and why he believes he should be reelected.

I am pleased to be welcoming our Superintendent for Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal. Welcome to the show.

[00:02:42] Chris Reykdal: Thank you for having me. We have something in common, which is we mix our social media lives of politics and policy and sports - and so I'm a fan online - and it's great to be on with you.

[00:02:53] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely - feeling is mutual. Well, I just wanted to start out by asking why you're running for re-election.

[00:03:01] Chris Reykdal: Yeah, this has been a really complicated time. When I first came to this office, I had left the legislature knowing that there was this massive investment we had to make in public education. And built great coalitions - and we have a wonderful Legislature who made those strides - and we just saw incredible momentum. And then also the pandemic hit, and I think we all as a country and as a world really kind of grappled with what that meant. We certainly innovated through it for sure, but much of what we created in terms of momentum was on pause and now we've reinvigorated that. And then all of a sudden, this massive opportunity for innovation in our classrooms hits us during the middle of all this. Kids learned how to learn remotely - it wasn't always great, but we certainly understood how to deliver instruction differently. Artificial intelligence has hit us since then, quite frankly, in the last 15 months - it's kind of new - so there's this ability to tailor learning and really think about that. And then the job of funding isn't done - we know there's a lot of work in special ed and some other areas. So there's just this huge innovation moment coming over the next three or four years, and I'm excited to be a part of that.

[00:03:57] Crystal Fincher: I wanted to follow up on that. Looking forward and the biggest challenges that the state will be facing, what are those challenges that you think will be tough to overcome?

[00:04:07] Chris Reykdal: Well, there's always this question of resource. So our state is designed for our Legislature to now be the dominant investor - quite frankly, they were only 60% of the money before I took this office - and now the Legislature is about 75% of the investment. So we really have kind of lifted ourselves up to this promise of our State Constitution of it being the paramount duty. So the big challenge is what happens if we have a recession? What happens if the cash flows to the state aren't going to be consistent? They look good right now, so we really have to capture that investment. We have to target those dollars differently than we have in the past - obviously, make more ground on supports for students with disabilities - we made a billion dollars worth of progress, but there's $300 or 400 million to go. And then there's really an opportunity, I think, to drive a lot more of our dollars - follow the students, particularly those on free and reduced price lunch or high poverty, depending on how we measure that. We do some of that today. We do $1.6 billion of that today between federal title dollars and learning assistance program dollars. But there really is this amazing opportunity to think differently about the funding system. And so I think the big risk is - would the Legislature hit a recession and cause them to slow down some of that opportunity? And it doesn't look like that's on the horizon, which is why it's so exciting - but we always have to be on the lookout for that. And obviously, then it's always the question of implementation. So even when they make the investments, how do you deploy effectively across 295 school districts?

[00:05:20] Crystal Fincher: Well, right now, many of those school districts are struggling with looming closures of schools, budget crises, some talking about laying off teachers. Do you agree with the decision to close schools? And what role does the superintendent play in working with and supporting school districts through making decisions like those and dealing with budget challenges like those?

[00:05:43] Chris Reykdal: Our job is this really delicate one between making sure that the Legislature's intent and our constitutional basic ed provisions are met. We don't get in the way, though, of local districts making their budget choices - and for 140 years of this office, we haven't done that. So they make curriculum choices and bell schedules, and they decide whether they need a second high school - and all of that local provision is theirs, including how to be efficient with their money. So what we do is we have monitors that help us understand when we think a district might be at risk - we're in constant conversation with them. Most of them have very good plans to make sure that they're financially stable. But occasionally, we intervene when a district looks like it doesn't have a plan to be stable. And then our job is to make sure that first and foremost, they protect basic ed. So think about that as all the instructional components, all the requirements that the Legislature puts on - for math and science, and English language, arts, and counselors, and all of that. So we really do make sure that if they're going to be reducing, it's in things other than basic ed. And other than that, we encourage them to be as efficient as possible, so I don't second guess their decisions. What I do say is - in a time where we grew for a decade straight, I think it's fair to say that it wasn't always efficient. And generally, when we see school districts with a lot of elementary schools below 300 kids, we say - Yeah, that is not generally the most efficient way to run school systems. That doesn't mean you grow class size - this isn't about class size - it's about whether you have too many administrators. Could you have fewer by consolidating? And I think that's what probably three or four districts around the state have to genuinely look at - not most of them, but there's probably a half a dozen at most that really do have to look at - did we grow over time to have too many small schools that aren't very efficient, and how do we get better at that?

[00:07:21] Crystal Fincher: One of the challenges that lots of school districts are facing is one of teacher retention, and a challenge with recruitment and with professional development. How can we improve how we retain and recruit teachers and educators?

[00:07:35] Chris Reykdal: Yeah, a lot of people jump to programs, right? They think - My goodness, if we just had this program or that program. And what I always say is - Those come second. The first thing you have to do is make it a profession worth being a part of - so compensation, first and foremost, it's nuts and bolts stuff. We've really improved that a lot. You have to to be competitive in the Pacific Northwest. Young people deciding to be a teacher or not - they're not competing around that same concept in Iowa where they're thinking - Am I going to be in agriculture? Am I going to be in natural resources? Or am I going to be in some basic manufacturing? In the Northwest, that young person's thinking - Well, I make six figures right out of college being a computer scientist, or an engineer, or in logistics, or international trade. So we really have a very different competitive market, which is why I've worked so hard on teacher salaries and paraeducator compensation and our support staff. So that's first and foremost.

I will say I'm very proud of what we've done to create different routes and pathways that maintain high expectations for educators, but do open the door. We've seen a national decline for 30 years in traditional teacher prep programs - just far fewer young people go to a college or university, take on a debt load to be a teacher. It's still the most voluminous pathway, but it is not the growing pathway that it used to be. So we think about this transfer of paraeducators - we're starting an apprenticeship program in the state for teachers. We have folks who come out of industry, but they have to meet real specific standards. So by doing all of that, it's actually given us a far better opportunity to diversify our workforce. When I started this job, only about 10, 12% of new teachers were teachers of color - and we're between 25 and 30% of our new certificated teachers. So the cool thing about opening up the doors and the pathways as you break down traditional barriers that have been institutionally in total bias for those without resource and sometimes by other demographics, so I'm really proud of our state. And the retention numbers are there, which is really cool - they are staying in consistent numbers. But it also means mentorship along the way. And it means consistently feeding their families, which means you can't just get them in on a good starting salary - there also has to be this growth, which we have, and inflation adjustments. So proud of the work, always more work to do. But there's some good partnerships out there trying to make this happen for folks.

[00:09:39] Crystal Fincher: Now, something that we've heard from teachers, from administrators, and from students directly is that they have been struggling with mental health challenges more than they ever have before, and the supports needed are more than are currently in schools. What can you do to help with mental health counseling preparedness challenges happening right now in our schools?

[00:10:04] Chris Reykdal: Yeah, this has been building for a couple of decades, actually. And obviously, pre-pandemic, we knew this was getting to be a pretty serious situation across the United States - so there's so many aspects of this. I will first say - I met with a delegation from South Korea probably two months ago, and it's amazing to me that what they focused on the entire time was student mental health and discipline in South Korea. And they attributed a ton of that to technology. Everyone I talk to across the country - I have a peer network of superintendents from the United States - it's this consistent theme around the country and around the globe. So something happened 10 or 12 years ago that I think is important for listeners to know, which is it's the first time that we saw ubiquitous use of smart devices down to the middle school level. So we have kids with a lot of screen time and a growing sense of isolation. And then these algorithms within these apps, obviously, pump them full of negative information and fear. And then it reinforces - the second you click on that story, those algorithms feed you more stories. So a couple of things. Number one, we've invested in regional mental health networks, and I use federal dollars to do that - and it's really important about that. Because simultaneously, we got the Legislature to invest $300 million more a year in this space - so school psychologists, nurses, counselors, social workers, licensed mental health therapists. So we've added more resources to schools to address this. We've got regional mental health networks because school districts are so small, they can't have their own - they just literally are too rural to have their own school psych. But there's a regional network that can help them. We're changing learning standards as we speak to make sure that within our literacy world, students really understand information, media literacy, misinformation, disinformation. So it's not just treated on the back end, but it's also lean into it on the front end. How do you really empower young people to know why is this happening to kids in this country? Why is it happening to the world? So we're taking a front end approach, a back end approach. We've invested more dollars at school district level, we've invested dollars regionally. And I'm really proud to say that our most recent survey of student mental health - they are recording some of the best numbers we've seen in the last five or six years. So it's still this national challenge for sure, but in this state, we haven't seen them respond with such good numbers in years. And it's a 200,000 student survey, which is really, really exciting. And they're saying - less isolation, they're building better relationships at school, they definitely have teachers and educators they trust. And if I can just be super candid with you, we check quarterly suicide statistics for essentially 12-year-olds to 20-year-olds in this state - it's done by the University of Washington. And when I first got into this job, it was 65, 70 kids a year, sadly. It was 72 at the start of the pandemic. It's down to 55. We haven't seen numbers this low in many years - and it's 55 too many, but a 25% reduction in youth suicide is very, very important. And I'm super grateful for all the professionals that are leaning into the work.

[00:12:40] Crystal Fincher: Very important reduction, and hope we see that trend continue. Now, I'm wondering - certainly through the pandemic and the remote learning happening when kids were not attending school at school, really highlighted issues of digital divides in communities. How have we progressed in closing that divide and what work is still left to be done?

[00:13:05] Chris Reykdal: It's an awesome and powerful question. The fact that it was so fast - I mean, we turned schools around in 72 hours in that winter - it was a remarkable turnaround. We saw districts empty out computer labs to get students any device where they didn't have one. So on the device side, I feel really, really hopeful about that because not only did we immediately turn, we then use federal emergency dollars to at least capitalize the first wave of this. And then our Legislature within a year of that put permanent money into our school budgets. So we are essentially a one-to-one device state - not totally there. But on that side of it, we've leaned into it. We've walked as far as we probably can or close to it to making sure every student has access to a quality device. We've also deployed where we can connectivity through a lot of partnerships - public sector, private sector, and nonprofit. Our last big barrier, to be honest with you, is there are some communities that just literally do not have the bandwidth - they don't have the fiber. I'm not a big fan of Elon Musk - I think I've been public about that in my social media - but he does have this network he's trying to build of global satellites. And so I do know there are communities that are now using that, particularly North Central and Northeast Washington - it's getting them some access to connectivity. But the good news is - our school buildings and our libraries around the state really have been top priorities, so we do have speed and width there. The question is - how do we then get it to families? And that's a massive federal undertaking. And so this is one of those where if you gave it a letter grade when it comes to connectivity, I'd say Washington State's a B+ or an A-. But we really have to have partnership if you're going to bring that last connection to families so that the student who wants to work remotely, learn remotely, take classes remotely, doesn't have to come into town to get that done - they can get it done at their home.

[00:14:42] Crystal Fincher: I also want to talk about something you did mention earlier - AI - and we want to prepare our kids for the world that they're going to be graduating into. And that world now includes AI, but there are challenges that come with that - it is a new technology - there are still concerns around it in terms of safety, accuracy, and how appropriate it is for education. What role does your office play and what role should you play in helping school districts figure out the right path forward?

[00:15:13] Chris Reykdal: Really neat thing about our state is we do know our limits and we know our baselines. Our Legislature sets direction and sets budgets - I don't get to set budgets, I wish I did. My job definitely at OSPI is to build a really talented team who knows learning standards. So we have educators and PhDs all over that place and some attorneys who work really hard to make sure we have a common expectation of what learning is - what is fourth grade math? It shouldn't be different in Yakima than it is in Spokane or Everett or Edmonds. Same goes with AI. So the Legislature says - Hey, it's a brave new world, here's your basic ed dollars. My office is setting the standards for what's expected of that, local school boards are adopting curriculum and materials, and then teachers are delivering lesson plans - that's the order that it always has to be. So we've issued some of the first guidance in the country on this. Good news is because we're a relatively high-tech state, we've already had really good student data privacy frameworks in our state - better than most, for sure. We have solid understanding in our school districts around information they can and cannot share around students. And so, we think we have this great foundation. Our job was to say to districts - Don't start trying to police this in a way that would shut off innovation. But also don't race to jump into contracts - you're going to see so many companies start up and fail - don't get into long-term licensing agreements on these. Let's really understand, make sure that both the protections and the privacy is there, make sure you update your policies so that students know appropriate use. And then let us show you some really cool things that are happening out there. So we now have professional learning networks where educators all over the state are meeting in regions to talk about how to appropriately use AI from the teacher perspective and the student perspective.

And I just got to tell you, Crystal, the opportunity here is unbelievable. Paired with high-quality educators who are well-trained, which we do in our state with our high certification standards, we have the ability to use technology to complement learning and really understand where students are. It's always been hard to have a class of 30 kids and differentiate, but when you have assistive technologies that can be super subtle - whether it's a reading pacing, or students sounding out words, or students in mathematics struggling on a particular concept that you can reiterate for them - the possibilities are just incredible and customized and individualized. And the key is just making sure it's focused on student learning. It's generative - you've talked about that - so students also have the ability to create new knowledge with it. But we've created this national framework that other states are starting to pick up, which is really this human-centered idea - which is it starts with inquiry by a kid or a student or an educator - let the AI pop out whatever it's going to pop out, that's fine. But it doesn't end ever unless the human, the student, the child then shapes the result of it. How do they put their take on it? How do they change that writing or that language or that inquiry? And then it's documented, so teachers get to see that critical thinking processing happening. So we've been wanting to do this for 200 years in education, which is demonstrate critical thinking - and now we can do it, and I think you're going to see it just become a powerful part of learning. And hopefully it means we're going to show the brilliance of all of our children and their growth, and stop asking a third grader to remember something they learned in September to take one single standardized test in May or June and then draw some artificial baseline that says they are or are not on standard. That is barbaric. It is old. We've got to get past it. And I think AI gives us a chance to do that.

[00:18:20] Crystal Fincher: What progress has been made during your tenure in closing the opportunity gap? And what can be done to further close that gap for all students, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status?

[00:18:36] Chris Reykdal: Yeah, I think of it as plural - gaps - because I think along the education continuum, there are places where the system has been unjust. And so I never just look at a test score at the end because if you just look at a test score and you never address the steps along the way, you're going to keep getting the same result - generally speaking - although the test is growing increasingly to be invalid as an indicator. So let's take it all away from the beginning. The expansion of early childhood ed in this state, led by incredible legislators, is a powerful tool. So the fastest growing cohorts in getting high-quality early learning are students of color and low-income students and migrant students. We still have a very large migrant population - second largest in the nation, only behind California. So we just looked at our kindergarten readiness scores this last year - the best kindergarten readiness scores that we have ever had since we've been keeping track of that for the last seven years. So we know this jumpstart for young people is really powerful, and then you start thinking about then how do we know when students need help? Well, since I've been in this role, we now have a universal screening for dyslexia. So we have multiple check-ins on when students are struggling with reading - that's another powerful place to close gaps. Then we have this acceleration concept where we no longer pick one test to say who's accelerating and who's not. Because we have brilliant students who are ready to accelerate - we were using a single standardized test. By using multiple measures, we've gone from about 3.5% of our kiddos in accelerated programs in elementary school to 7%. In these highly capable programs - fastest growing populations - students of color and low-income students.

So we sort of see all these building blocks coming together. That allows us to look at high school, where the fastest growing cohorts of kids in dual credit - whether it's AP, College in the High School, or Running Start - fastest growth are students of color, low-income students. And so now we see graduation rates closing, and of course we've seen college participation rates by these groups of students improve for years. So if you look at the building blocks, we've made incredible progress since I've been here. There's always a lot of work to do. I think what's frustrating is some people don't want to look at those building blocks or even the outcome, which is more students going on to post-secondary and reflecting our diversity. They want to look at a single standardized test. And when we say - Yeah, but that test is full of so much bias that you could have brilliant kids taking tests on planting corns and beets and peas. You took these tests when you were in college - you're like, They're still using those tests? Yes. Well, how many kids are farmers these days? So the cultural irrelevance of the test, the fact that it's binary - there are people who are going to keep pointing to those and saying we haven't closed gaps. And I will say to you - from pre-K, to kindergarten readiness, to acceleration programs, to reading interventions, to dual credit, to graduation - we are absolutely closing gaps, and I'm very proud of our educators.

[00:21:09] Crystal Fincher: Should we be providing free lunch to all kids in school?

[00:21:14] Chris Reykdal: No question about it. I was one of the first state superintendents in the country three years ago to say this should be a universal goal for every state. Some states have passed us already, which is frustrating. But when I got here, we were about 300,000-350,000 kids getting access to free breakfast and lunch. And today it's 725,000 of our students, so we're down to our last 300,000 kids in communities that don't yet have access. Obviously, as you go up the income scale, you get more criticism. People who say - Gosh, you're now at a point where everyone who really needs one's getting it, so why feed everybody? Aren't you just subsidizing families? And I say to them - Go to school anywhere else in the world, whether it's in Asia or Europe or just about anywhere, and you will see that a part of going to school is that you eat. It's just human basics. We don't charge families for tissue, and flushing toilets, and turning on lights, and using heat or water. So our basic biology should be taken care of. The research is clear - this helps students academically, it reduces student discipline issues. I would like to get to universal meals. And what I always have to remind folks is it doesn't mean a million kids walk through the door and get a breakfast or a lunch - it's there if they need it. A lot of families still send their meals with kids to school, and that's okay. We just want it to be available for all students, and we're really, really close now - and I'm proud of our Legislature for pushing this. And I can't believe that there are still people who say - Hey, that meal should not be provided at schools. It's pretty amazing, but some people still say that.

[00:22:34] Crystal Fincher: Baffling to me also. I hope we can clear that hurdle in this next legislative session. I'm also wondering about healthy environments for our kids at school. We've been learning more about the importance of air quality, of noise on learning - about a lot of environmental factors that have direct impacts on kids' health and their ability to learn. What more can be done to make our public school classrooms and buildings healthier for the kids who are there?

[00:23:04] Chris Reykdal: This is a great question. Thank you for asking it because most people don't get into issues like capital budget. And so this is an important way for, I think, listeners to understand that - yeah, we spent a lot of years in the courts trying to get our schools funded on the operational side. Do they have the right equipment? Do they have the right learning devices? Do they have the educators that are adequately compensated? There's a capital side of this, which is clean air, clean water and buildings. So when we got there, it was obvious that there was a lot of fixtures - so think about water fountains - that the last 10 feet of those when you come out of the ground has got old copper pipes. Or in some cases there was lead - not much left of that, but there was some. So, we were part of an entire program that the Legislature funded to start swapping out all of these old fixtures, which has just been awesome. We really lean into seismic retrofits. So believe it or not, we still have districts that are in earthquake zones and tsunami zones that haven't had a retrofit. So there's a dedicated program to that now, which is pretty awesome.

And the latest thing we've done, particularly since COVID, is to recognize that while we have standards in air quality and air circulation in our schools, which is quite good - there are some old facilities that have a really hard time meeting that. So they do all the tweaks that they can - they've re-engineered systems, but what they really need is full HVAC replacements. And most of our newer schools in the Puget Sound do great with this and they have money for these retrofits, but a lot of our rural communities do not. So we've doubled a program called the Small District Modernization Program - it's more than $50 million larger than it was - and we have a project list. So we're all over the state now making sure they get HVAC replacements and roof replacements - because if you've got mold in your school, it's probably a moisture issue. And so we've really leaned into this question from a learner standpoint, a student health standpoint. And then this last session, so proud of our Legislature - not only did they increase capacity in all those programs, they dedicated money to schools in airport takeoff and landing zones. So particularly around SeaTac, we have targeted dollars - generally, these will be in-classroom air filtration systems that will help. And I just - I love how progressive our state is. We lean into these things. Now we have to sustain them - you know, I think the paramount duty of the state by Constitution is operating and we're 43, 44% of the budget, but we're only 25% of the capital budget. So I do hope that for the next couple of cycles, we can lean heavily into the needs of our schools on the capital side. Because I do think the air quality and water quality outcomes are first and foremost, a civil right, a human right. And then the learning outcomes are obvious when kids feel healthy and safe.

[00:25:29] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. You spoke a little bit earlier about the decreasing number of kids choosing - certainly in education - number of kids pursuing education careers by taking on debt in college. And it looks like there are more kids looking for alternatives, or families being forced into alternatives, because of the inability to afford college, the inability to realistically pay off the amount of debt it takes to acquire a degree. What programs and opportunities are there besides a four-year degree to shoot for that our schools can prepare kids to pursue that will provide them with the opportunity for a successful life?

[00:26:12] Chris Reykdal: Yeah, we definitely want to tailor our education system around the passion for young people - give them the core and the basics they need through K-6 and K-8, but really begin to let them explore after that. The older students get, the more they have a sense of their own agency and where they want to go. We want to maintain high expectations for all students and give them every chance at whatever they want to do. So we do push kids pretty aggressively through the third credit of math and the third credit of science and fourth credit of ELA [English language arts] . We never want to be a system that's making that decision for students - I want to start with that. That said, we have pushed so hard to open up graduation pathways to career and tech ed. 52% of our kids now take two or more CTE [Career and Technical Education] courses - it used to be 38%. Increasingly, we are articulating these straight-into-apprenticeship programs. So it's not just take a class to explore metals, or fabrication, or welding, or pre-nursing, or pre-vet - there's a host of them, but also we give them college credit increasingly so that they have something they can take with them to articulate into a community or technical college or straight into an apprenticeship program. We have 16,000 apprentices in the state now on a given year, and the average age is coming down, which is very exciting because for so long, a lot of young people left high school. They kind of kicked around for a while - this might have been the experience of a lot of my family members - they found themselves living rent month-to-month and maybe into some debt and some other bad habits. And then they say - I got to go get a career. And they're starting their apprenticeship program at 27 or 30 years old, and their body might already be a little beat up by then.

So we've really worked hard to say to students - You don't have to wait. These pathways are available to you right away. Huge kudos to legislators who have built our Washington College Grant program to not just be for baccalaureate production - certainly, you can use this very generous financial aid program for four-year, two-year - but also apprenticeship programs. As you point out though, it's such a great program for particularly low-income students - and they're moving that median income number up - so they're making more students eligible. But the truth is, there's still this huge donut hole in the middle of debt. So the last thing I want to say is we think we're part of the solution in K-12. I came to this role 14 years in the community and technical college system and helped build Running Start. But we have Running Start, we have AP programs, we have College in the High School - these are three volume-driven - just huge numbers of kids who realize if I get my college credit while it's paid for in high school, that is time I save on the back end. That is money my family saves, that is less debt for me, and I get into the labor market faster. And so the next phase for us is get rid of the fees in those programs - we just wiped out all the fees in College in the High School - and now I want to wipe out all the instructional fees in Running Start. It is such a powerful way to advanced bachelor's degrees, associate degrees, and apprenticeships. But let's get rid of the debt mostly by just getting them more college earlier because doggone it, they're ready. They're ready their 11th and 12th grade year - and we see record numbers of kids now getting college credit while in high school.

[00:28:54] Crystal Fincher: I want to shift a little bit and return to an issue we talked about earlier in terms of looming school closures in some districts, and other districts looking at selling property that they may have - just a variety of situations - while we're having these major conversations in our society about childcare and other basic needs that families need to raise kids, to participate in the workforce, to really make our communities work. Are there opportunities to think more expansively and creatively about how we use and share school buildings? Can we locate childcare in some of these facilities? Can we find alternative or community uses for school buildings that may be at risk of closure or sale? What role does the superintendent play in considerations like that? And is that a possibility for more places in our state?

[00:29:51] Chris Reykdal: I really think it is. And the good part about our state is this has been an integrated relationship for many, many years. So people tend to think of us as sectors - early learning, K-12, higher ed - but it's so integrated. We just talked about how many high school juniors and seniors are taking college credits and blurring that line. Well, we're blurring that line on the front end as well. So over 40% - it might be 50% - of all the ECEAP [Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program] slots. So think about the state subsidized childcare and early learning option for families - nearly half of those slots are done in K-12 elementary schools, because we had space and we have these professional certificated teachers. I think there's opportunity for this - not just for the school system to deliver it, that won't always be the case. But if you're Seattle School District and you're going to have to consolidate because you have so many schools under 300 kids and you have an empty facility, and we have a child care provider - whether that's a networked system, a larger system, or even a smaller niche system - their biggest barrier is usually capital. They usually have a hard time getting into a space that they can afford. So here's this incredible opportunity where something's been built by the taxpayers and the public sector, it's going to be available potentially, it already has so many specs met for safety and quality and all of that - so I just think the opportunities are immense. They're happening all over the state and have been for a long time. But this moment in time, particularly in the Puget Sound, there might be an even greater opportunity. So you ask what role we have. Again, our role is to make sure the districts know this is a viable option for them - they don't have to surplus those properties immediately, they don't have to surplus them for cash-on-hand. They can build these partnerships - leave the asset in control of the school district, work out those lease agreements or those whatever they're going to do, low-interest loans or forgiveness. There's a lot that they can do to really help our childcare providers. And we need this because we have some amazing providers out there, but the cost is high for families - not everyone who needs it gets qualified subsidy. And in a world where if we do have to close some schools - and it'll be far fewer than what are announced, because that's just part of the process - let's use those assets in the community. And I think we see examples all over the state already.

[00:31:47] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Should we be opening up more charter schools? And what's the appropriate role of charter schools in the public school system?

[00:31:59] Chris Reykdal: Yeah, I think this has been a hard question for our state - rejected at the ballot many times, ultimately passed at the ballot, but then was thrown out by the court because they were being funded by common school dollars and our constitution prohibits that. So now they're funded from revenue that isn't common school. The data seems to be exactly as I've described it for my whole career, which is - eh, pretty mixed. You have some good charter schools, as you have some amazing public schools. You have some poor-performing charter schools. I think the challenge is if you're in the Seattle school district, for example, and you're really pushed to consolidate and get efficient on administration because you have small elementaries - does it make sense to have a bunch of charter schools in a state that are really small? Because they're not very efficient administratively. And that isn't a criticism of them and how they're operating - it's just when you have a charter school of 200 kids, you still need administrators and safety folks and counselors and all that. So small systems, just from a pure budget standpoint, are not very efficient. But some families want these. I'd still love to see a system where the first choice is to go to the school district and say - We want you to be the sponsor of this really innovative way of teaching and learning. And we have these all over the place in our state already - before you can go straight to a charter, where the voters lose the opportunity to vote for their local board. As you know, I've never been a fan. I haven't been critical because I do see some good performance, but I don't think this is getting us the outcome that people wanted - certainly not at scale. I think there are better ways to do this. And obviously our Legislature put a time cap on and a number cap. And the time cap has expired, and they're going to keep debating this every single year. And I will say consistently - this may not make sense if you're going to start a tiny small school that simply has the same financial distress as the public schools. Maybe this idea that we are supposed to be - the sons and daughters of millionaires, low-income kids learning together is probably the better way to develop a democratic system of public ed. And I'll continue to believe that because that's how I grew up - oldest of six siblings, two years in foster care - it was really once the family reunited and I came into that family, it was public ed that gave me a chance. And I want that for everyone - it means we got to be high quality, we have to step up our game all the time. But I don't think parallel systems are ultimately going to prove to be a success in the United States.

[00:34:10] Crystal Fincher: Should we implement school vouchers in Washington state?

[00:34:15] Chris Reykdal: We do not yet - there was a petition by the State Republicans this last year - they filed with the Secretary of State, they didn't get to signature gathering. I think they are very interested in this. They've seen what's happened all over the country - when you voucherize systems, you hand taxpayer money over to people. And ultimately what you're doing is you're subsidizing faith-based institutions, generally, for-profit corporations or private nonprofit schools. We do see that more than 70% of the vouchers in the country go to people already in private school. So you're basically handing a $10,000 check to people who are already in private school, which is not good economic policy - it's not progressive policy. The outcomes result in resegregation by race, by disability. Most of these programs do not support students with disabilities. And here's the irony. They bludgeon us over standardized test scores, which we know are not good measures of student success. But then they privatize through vouchers, and none of those voucher systems are required to give standardized assessments to know how they're performing. So no, we should reject this wholeheartedly. It is part of my campaign to get the awareness up in anticipation of folks trying to bring a voucher initiative to our state. This is going backwards. We built a democratic system of public ed to lift up all people - and it isn't always perfect, and it still has barriers, and it still has systemic challenges - but it is our best opportunity at equitable outcomes. Vouchers go exactly in the opposite direction.

[00:35:43] Crystal Fincher: What's not on people's radar? What have we not talked about that is important to address?

[00:35:50] Chris Reykdal: Well, I do think we touched a little bit on this - innovation. But if I look at my life in public ed over the last 30 years as a teacher and a school board member and serving in higher ed and all that, I was never too keen on a lot of technology because as I evaluated it, it was a way for people to sell us devices mostly. Or connections. And it rarely had the connection to educators getting more effective, or having genuine tools for learning. There's no doubt the internet changed the world, but it didn't particularly change instruction. It's still about relationship building. So I want that K-6 experience to still very much be about relationship building and the building blocks of learning, whether it's literacy or quantitative reasoning, social studies, PE [Physical Education] - like that's so key. But as students get older, I don't think we can talk enough about how much this technology has to be taught to be a tool, instead of passively thinking that students are going to jump on TikTok at home and learn what you want them to learn. So we're going to lean into the instructional side of technology - its strengths, its weaknesses, its risks - so that it's a complementary tool to teaching and learning. And I do think it has the incredible opportunity for individualization, and I'm really looking forward to that. But it's work - we're building those standards now, we're doing that professional learning now. Soon we will have curriculum, expectations of districts so that they're leaning into this with kids. You've got to start with five-year-olds to say - Why do they want you to turn that thing on? Why do they want your eyes on that? When you click on it, who makes money and why do they do that? And why does it seem to be so negative? And why do they want you in front of so many scary images? So every crisis this country's ever faced has been made better, hopeful through education - whether it's smoking cessation, whether it's absolute institutional racism that we had to address through direct instruction - we are always better when we teach into a hard moment, and we need to teach into technology right now with all of the appropriate safety measures.

[00:37:43] Crystal Fincher: As we close our conversation today and voters are trying to make a decision between you and your opponents, what do you tell them are the differences between you and your opponents? And why should they vote for you?

[00:37:59] Chris Reykdal: First and foremost is experience. There's always time for somebody to learn on the job - I never think it's a good time in what I consider sort of this quintessential moment of - are we going to come back to fully investing in our schools after they lost $1,000 per kid to inflation? That is the reason we're seeing distress in schools, mostly - enrollments are one thing, but this financial risk is very real. That requires coalitions to fully fund, and we've obviously demonstrated the ability to do that with the first $4.5 billion. So it's experience - not just being in this role and building those relationships and those networks - it's also the experience of serving 14 years in a higher ed system to see what it means to receive these students. Being on the school board - our state constitution is structured around local decision-making - and I served in that role as well as being a teacher. And then lived experience. I think there is a huge difference between having passion for justice and equity and then living an aspect of that. And I will say I have a lot of privilege as a white cisgender male, and so it's allyship mostly - but I did come from such financial distress that I know what it is like to be homeless, I know what it is like to not eat for days at a time. You never lose that. You never lose what it means to feel like that. And to feel the purchase of food with food stamps and the shame. And we've gotten rid of a lot of those things that cause those indicators of shame, but you never lose that. And so when I say I lean into this from experience, it isn't just the professional side - it's sort of this relentless passion to close barriers and open doors because there was a part of my life that saw that. I can't relate in other ways and I have to be a good ally, but all the work we're doing to protect trans youth, all the work we do to make sure that our learning standards are gender inclusive and gender affirming in care - this is because students need us. They need our help. And I do think a lived experience through poverty at least gives me a window in saying - It's so visceral to me that it's not theoretical. It's not in a textbook. It's not research. It's not just data on paper. And I think that's the difference - professional experience, lived experience. And I'd love to have people's support to keep doing the work.

[00:40:01] Crystal Fincher: Well, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today, help us learn about where we're at, and what your vision is for moving forward. And we'll be eagerly following this race in the months to come.

[00:40:14] Chris Reykdal: Thank you so much.

[00:40:16] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.