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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

As State Schools Chief Steps Aside, Two Newcomers Vie For Job

Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates Erin Jones, left, and Chris Reykdal on the set of TVW's ''Inside Olympia'' program with host Austin Jenkins.

Brash. That’s how you might describe Washington state’s two-term State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. He hasn’t been afraid to speak his mind and criticize the governor and legislators over school funding.

Now Dorn is stepping aside and two newcomers are vying for the non-partisan job.

Dorn may be going away, but the issue of school funding is not. Washington is under a Supreme Court order to amply fund public schools by 2018. Dorn has endorsed Democratic state Rep. Chris Reykdal to replace him.

    » Watch the candidates discuss their positions on TVW's "Inside Olympia" program

Reykdal said he’d bring a different style to the job.

“We’ve got to get beyond sort of the shame part and onto the solution part,” he said.

Reykdal said he’d partner with lawmakers to figure out how to fully fund schools while also holding school districts accountable for their spending. Ultimately Reykdal believes it will take additional tax dollars -- perhaps even a new capital gains tax -- to create a constitutional 21st century public education system.

“I don’t think you can get there just by finding more change under the cushions,” Reykdal said.

The other candidate in this race is Erin Jones. She’s a former assistant state schools superintendent who’s never held elected office. Jones also said more money is needed, but believes it’s a tough sell with voters.

“People think the new money is just to pay teachers more, so ‘those teachers just want more money’ and that for the general public that doesn’t warrant higher taxes,” Jones said.

Jones said the next state schools chief must create an education roadmap.

“We’ve got to have a much clearer vision for public education that is driven by the state office,” she said.

On the looming question of whether teachers should bargain with the state, Jones thinks it could lead to more equitable salaries. But she acknowledged fierce opposition from the Washington Education Association.

“There’s going to be a lot of tension around that with the union,” Jones said. “So I see that being a huge fight.”

Reykdal,who’s been endorsed by the WEA, supports local bargaining and notes Washington has a history of freezing pay for state workers.

“The only thing that kept quality teachers engaged for the last decade or longer at a time when the state was failing to do its job was local collective bargaining,” Reykdal said.

On the topic of standardized tests, both candidates agree there’s too much focus these days on test taking. They also both oppose tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

On how to close the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, Jones emphasized the importance of the teacher in the classroom and serving the cultural needs of students. Reykdal said closing the gap won’t happen without the state fully funding schools followed by targeted spending.

Both candidates were also once teachers.

Correspondent Austin Jenkins spoke with both candidates on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."