Funding Crisis, Charter War, Teacher Shortage: Who Wants To Be WA. State Schools Chief? These Five.

Funding Crisis, Charter War, Teacher Shortage: Who Wants to be WA. State Schools Chief? These Five.

Carolyn Phenicie from takes a closer look at the upcoming local and state level elections in November, highlighting the crucial role that education will play in these elections.

The task of the next superintendent of public instruction in Washington state will undoubtedly be challenging. With the recent passage of the No Child Left Behind rewrite, education leaders in all states, including Washington, will have new authority over schools. This new authority is expected to cover various issues, such as testing, which has been a controversial topic in the state. Last year, numerous junior classes in high schools staged walkouts to protest against the SmarterBalanced tests.

Furthermore, Washington state legislators are currently facing a hefty daily fine of $100,000 from the Supreme Court for their failure to completely fund education. In addition, these legislators are locked in a heated debate over the future of charter schools, which have been declared unconstitutional by the court. The state also faces a teacher shortage that many view as approaching a crisis.

However, despite these challenges, five individuals have stepped up to replace the outgoing state schools Superintendent Randy Dorn, who will not be seeking reelection in November. This nonpartisan position carries a four-year term and pays approximately $122,000 per year. Washington is one of the thirteen states that elects its highest K-12 schools official.

recently interviewed all five candidates. Here is a brief summary of who they are and where they stand on the major education issues:

– Robin Fleming, aged 55, is the Administrator for Health Programs in the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. She grew up in Seattle with a single mother who struggled to care for her brother, who had Down’s Syndrome. Her experiences with individuals with disabilities and her close friend’s suicide due to AIDS inspired her to leave journalism and become a nurse. Fleming spent 13 years as a nurse in the Seattle Public Schools, witnessing various challenging situations, including drug overdoses and gunshot wounds. She pursued further education and obtained a doctorate in educational health and leadership. Her thesis focused on the impact of school nurses on student health and academic achievement, particularly among students from impoverished backgrounds. Fleming currently administers statewide programs that ensure access to school nurses and support students who are temporarily out of school due to illness. She believes she brings a unique perspective to the race and can make a difference for the children of Washington state.

– Erin Jones, aged 44, is an administrator in Tacoma Public Schools. She was adopted by two white teachers from Minnesota, as her birth parents were a younger white mother and older black father. Jones grew up in Europe, where her father taught at the American School of the Hague. She experienced a diverse upbringing, surrounded by the children of ambassadors. After returning to the United States for college, she has lived in various states and pursued multiple careers. Within the education sector, Jones has served as a substitute teacher and taught English and French immersion. She also worked for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for several years. Currently, Jones holds the position of director of AVID, a program that supports first-generation college students from an early age. She has expanded the program to ensure that every middle school student has the necessary skills for college success. Jones believes her diverse experiences and dedication to expanding opportunities for all students make her a strong candidate for the superintendent position.

"I am running because I firmly believe that our students deserve a higher quality of education, and I am running because I want to serve as a unifying voice among various groups of people," she explains.

Gil Mendoza

Age: 61

Deputy superintendent for K-12 programs, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Hometown: Tacoma

Mendoza’s parents were migrant workers before his father joined the military. He spent most of his formative years in Tacoma. He earned a psychology degree from Gonzaga University in Spokane, along with qualifications to teach social studies and special education.

Mendoza received an ROTC scholarship to attend college and then served in the military for six years, four of which were on active duty and two in the reserves.

After leaving the military, he moved out of state to pursue better job opportunities. He ended up working in human resources and corporate recruiting for billionaire Ross Perot, who also ran for president in 1992.

Mendoza returned to Washington state in the early 1980s and began working in the K-12 education system at various levels. He has been involved in education since 1983, with the exception of three years when he helped establish a technical college. After earning his doctorate, Mendoza worked as a career counselor and teacher before transitioning into administrative roles in the Tacoma schools. He served as superintendent for 13 years in the Sumner schools, located in suburban Tacoma.

Eventually, Mendoza joined the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, starting as a special assistant and leadership coach. He then moved on to his current position as K-12 assistant superintendent. Mendoza decided to enter the race after reviewing the other candidates who had filed and realizing that an individual with a more comprehensive education background in Washington state was needed.

Chris Reykdal

Age: 43

State legislator

Hometown: Tumwater

Reykdal is one of eight children who grew up in poverty in Snohomish, Washington. He attributes his ability to break the cycle of poverty to attending public school.

He attended Washington State University, where he earned degrees in social studies and obtained his teaching certificate. Reykdal taught history in Longview, Washington, for three years.

Reykdal and his wife then moved to Chapel Hill, where he pursued a graduate degree in public administration at the University of North Carolina. After returning to Washington, Reykdal worked for the state Senate and gradually climbed the ranks of the state board responsible for overseeing community and technical colleges. He currently serves as the associate director of the education division there, where he participates in shaping policy and allocating funds for the state’s 30 community college districts. Reykdal also served on the Tumwater school board for four years.

In 2010, Reykdal, a Democrat, was elected to the state house. He currently holds the position of vice chair on the House education committee. He takes pride in his role in passing a bill that requires students graduating from high school in the class of 2019 and beyond to complete 24 specific credits, including three science classes. This change will lead to increased emphasis on math and science education in Washington.

Reykdal’s passion for public service stems from the positive impact that government programs had on his family during times of struggle.

"Now, we have a tremendous opportunity to re-envision the focus of our state office, which is constitutionally responsible for overseeing education in our state."

Larry Seaquist

Age: 77

U.S. Navy veteran, former state legislator

Hometown: Gig Harbor

Seaquist dedicated a major part of his career to the military. He served in the U.S. Navy for 32 years, achieving the rank of warship captain and working in budget and national security roles at the Pentagon.

Eventually settling in Washington state, Seaquist was elected to the state House in 2006 as a Democrat. During his four terms, he served on committees addressing early learning, education, and budgets. He even chaired the House higher education committee.

Over those eight years, Seaquist grew increasingly concerned about the state’s lack of investment in the education system. He identified two issues contributing to this problem: the reduction of education funding as a budget balancing measure and the implementation of ineffective reforms in the K-12 system.

Seaquist aims to utilize his campaign to advocate for specific legislative matters, such as addressing the funding ruling made by the Supreme Court.

"We have been stuck in unproductive legislative battles for several years, and I strongly believe that we cannot simply standby and allow these conflicts to continue in the same unproductive manner."

Where They Stand

Regarding School Funding Equity

Fleming: The legislature does need to fully finance education and agrees with the current superintendent’s remarks on the matter, although believes legislators should be motivated positively rather than negatively.

Does not provide any specific suggestions on how the legislature should obtain the new funds to meet its court obligations. "We need to generate revenue somehow, and that is the responsibility of the legislature to figure out."

Jones: While working for the state superintendent’s office when the Supreme Court addressed the McCleary case, testified as an educator. "It has become a much bigger issue than I initially anticipated."

Lawmakers have continually extended deadlines, which is detrimental to children.

Lawmakers should not impose new requirements until they adequately fund the existing ones. To cover all expenses, legislators should close tax loopholes, including those provided to retain thousands of jobs at Boeing, the largest private employer in the Puget Sound area.

"I understand that we live in a capitalist society with a free market, but we must prioritize serving our children by promoting equity."

Mendoza: Does not believe the legislature will meet the court’s 2018 deadline and sees 2021 as a more realistic target.

The funds allocated by the legislature to meet the court’s demands have not been appropriately allocated. They have fulfilled the requirements for funding materials, supplies, and operating costs but have not included language mandating districts to use that money for its specified purpose.

The legislature should address the local property tax system, which has resulted in significant disparities in teacher salaries across the state. Additionally, supports imposing a tax on capital gains for the wealthiest Washingtonians.

The real issue is that while spending on education has not kept pace with increased spending in other areas of state government. However, does not support cutting other services to fund K-12 education.

"It would not be appropriate to substantially reduce funding for other services that are not part of basic education but benefit our families," such as higher education or state health and welfare programs. "We would be creating more significant problems than what we currently face."

Reykdal: As someone focused on budgeting, believes it is crucial to comprehend the extent of the problem. The legislature has allocated an additional $3.5 billion over two years. To meet the court’s requirement for another $2 to $2.5 billion, lawmakers would need to increase taxes by 8 to 9 percent or reduce other state services by 14 to 15 percent.

Democrats, who have control over the state House, cannot raise taxes enough to cover the shortfall without losing their majority, just as Republicans cannot cut services enough without risking their majority in the state Senate. "The political aspect of this issue is immense."

Proposes implementing a tax on capital gains, an idea supported by Democrats. This would address about a third of the gap. Also agrees with the Republican proposition of a "levy swap," transitioning from a local property tax system to a statewide one. This would address about another third. "I can achieve a bipartisan solution that covers about two-thirds of the gap, but after that, it becomes extremely challenging."

Seaquist: More important than meeting the court-imposed deadline is making a difference for the millions of students who will go through an insufficiently funded school system each year the legislature fails to take action.

The next step should involve involving school district leaders in a task force to determine the actual requirements for basic education expenses and the most effective way to obtain funding from the state.

"If they are unable to do it, I will strive to make my campaign a good government campaign that addresses these issues, consults with the public and educators, rather than just running a campaign solely focused on securing votes."

Regarding Charter Schools

Fleming: Strongly supports innovation in education but believes it can be achieved by "keeping public funds where they should be, with proper monitoring." It is unfair that not every student has the opportunity to attend an innovative charter school.

Jones: I voted against the 2012 initiative that permitted charter schools, although I am not against innovation.

"My initial response was not that I inherently dislike the concept of innovation, but if we are not adequately funding existing schools, how can we responsibly take on the financial responsibility of charter schools?"

Furthermore, I do not believe that charter schools encourage traditional public schools to become more innovative.

Mendoza: Charter schools were established to provide innovative learning opportunities outside the traditional school system. "I believe that we have the potential and ability to offer the same in public education." For instance, the Tacoma School for the Arts offers an arts-focused curriculum closely linked to the local arts community and is governed by a district-supported board of directors.

There were two bills presented to the state legislature to keep charter schools open while complying with the court’s ruling. The superintendent’s office, and I personally, supported the bill that would bring the charters under the authority of local districts. Unfortunately, this bill did not progress beyond the committee stage.

The other bill that did pass through the full Senate keeps charters under a statewide authorizer but funds them through a lottery-based account. I am not concerned about the funding method as long as the schools are overseen by local school boards.

Reykdal: The state Supreme Court’s decision was the correct one, and there is no way to have a statewide authorizer without also involving local districts.

At the very least, local districts should have the authority to authorize these schools. However, I am not yet fully convinced about the concept of charter schools.

"I fully support innovative schools, even those providing contracted-out services, as long as they are authorized by local school districts and have accountability." However, I do not consider these schools as traditional charter schools.

Seaquist: I also voted against the charter initiative. "In my opinion, public schools already have ample creativity." There should be a greater emphasis on what I refer to as "liberating learning." I am concerned about the 1,100 charter school students whose schools are at risk. I am waiting to see the solution the state legislature devises and whether it aligns with the constitution.

On the issue of teacher shortage:

Fleming: Considering the immense pressures on teachers in terms of expectations and accountability, the educational requirements, and the relatively low salary, it is not surprising that there is a shortage of educators. It is crucial to elevate the teaching profession and make it valued.

I would collaborate with higher education leaders and high schools to establish a career pathway for teenagers interested in pursuing a teaching career.

I am not only concerned with the quantity of teachers, but also with having a diverse educator workforce. Given that by 2025, white children will only make up about 40 percent of the student population, this is a matter of utmost urgency.

Jones: "We are facing a crisis, not just in rural areas." In my district, approximately half of the teaching workforce is approaching retirement age.

The state should explore avenues to provide instructional training to individuals who already possess degrees and experience in other fields within a year. Additionally, the state should financially support this training. Why would anyone take out a $20,000 loan to earn a salary of only $35,000 per year?

Furthermore, the state needs to incentivize teachers to work in rural areas. This could involve offering new housing options and expanding loan forgiveness programs that are currently available to urban teachers to those serving in remote parts of the state.

Mendoza: I deal with this issue firsthand as my office approves emergency substitute designations that allow districts to fill vacancies with individuals lacking teaching or educational qualifications. In 2013, we approved 1,500 designations. The following year, it increased to 4,000. I predict that the problem will worsen as teachers who would have retired in recent years, but were financially restricted due to the economic downturn, can now afford to retire.

Compensation is also a concern. Teachers are underpaid, especially at the entry level. I would like to change state laws to allow retired teachers to work as substitutes for a longer period of time. Additionally, I would like to revise the rules to make it easier for individuals from other states to transfer their teaching credentials to Washington.

In order to increase the number of people attending full-time classes, the state needs to provide more incentives. I support the governor’s proposal to raise the starting salary to $40,000 per year, and I believe that professional development should be restored to its previous levels, as it has been severely reduced.

I believe that the teacher shortage is a result of mismanagement of our schools. It is not only concerning that there is a lack of new teachers and experienced educators leaving the profession, but also that mid-career teachers are leaving the classroom after working for several years.

Based on my military experience, I am interested in better managing the group of educators, ensuring that they have access to professional and career development opportunities. I am also concerned about the lack of diversity in the teaching workforce.

Regarding testing, I believe that standardized tests do have a role in education, but there are multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge. I would collaborate with others throughout the state to explore alternative methods of evaluating students, such as portfolios or thesis projects.

I am not opposed to using tests as a small part of teacher evaluations, but they should not be the sole determining factor. It is unfair to evaluate a teacher solely based on a test score, as it is comparable to evaluating a doctor’s performance solely based on their ability to cure cancer.

I am pleased that the new federal K-12 law provides more flexibility on testing and sets a limit on testing time. In my district, students are tested for six weeks each year, which I consider excessive.

I am also skeptical about the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. I firmly believe in holding teachers accountable and conducting evaluations, but I am unsure if a test can accurately measure a teacher’s effectiveness. Furthermore, I believe it is unfair to evaluate teachers based on test scores, especially considering that many teachers instruct in subjects that are not tested.

While I consider tests to be critically important, I believe that districts that complain about excessive testing may be administering additional tests beyond the state requirement. However, I do not believe that passing a single test should be a requirement for graduation.

I believe that the previous year’s walkout against the SmarterBalanced test by juniors was a result of them not recognizing its value. These students had already passed all the necessary tests for graduation and were unaware that most colleges in Washington use the SmarterBalanced test results for course placement. I believe that over time, students will realize the value of these tests in helping them gain a deeper understanding of themselves.

I do not support linking test scores to teacher evaluations in the traditional manner. Instead, I believe that teachers and principals should use the information provided by the tests as starting points for setting goals. In other words, it should be how teachers respond to the scores, not the scores themselves, that determine their evaluations.

In my opinion, SmarterBalanced tests in Washington are ultimately beneficial because they are aligned with the Common Core. However, there are too many tests overall. I believe that the state should focus on using SmarterBalanced tests and eliminate most other tests.

All states will have to address the discrepancy within the Every Student Succeeds Act, which allows students to opt out of tests but requires states and districts to maintain a 95 percent participation rate. One possibility is to include Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, SAT, or ACT exams in the calculation to reach the 95 percent target.

I believe that the examples from other states clearly indicate that test scores should not be tied to teacher evaluations. The research shows that we have not yet reached a point where this is viable. Perhaps in the future, we will find a better algorithm that can accurately determine a teacher’s effectiveness.

I am highly skeptical of standardized tests as they are currently administered. I am disappointed that the No Child Left Behind rewrite continues to prioritize high-stakes federal tests.

In my view, this high-stakes testing approach has disproportionately affected low-income and minority students. The equity gap exists not only because the economy is leaving families and children behind, but also because our school system is effectively sorting students based on their capabilities.

I believe that standardized tests should be administered more like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests a sample of students rather than every single one.

On alliances, reforming education, and labor unions

Fleming: When most individuals refer to education reform, they often mean the establishment of charter schools. However, that interpretation does not align with the true meaning of reform. "I advocate for making positive changes, and I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to do so" using the new federal education law. Specifically, Fleming desires to promote innovation in education and empower teachers.

She was a member of a union for 13 years while working as a school nurse. "I strongly support labor unions and the rights of individuals to collectively negotiate for their benefits and salaries."

Jones: She is running as a true non-partisan and has dedicated her entire career to bridging divergent views. She has developed good relationships with education reform groups and has friends within the union. As Secretary, she holds a leadership role in the classified employees’ union.

However, not everyone within the union leadership supports her. "I haven’t always had a positive relationship with the teachers union, and they haven’t always had a positive opinion of me." Jones supports great teaching and great teachers but believes that the union can sometimes focus on issues unrelated to improving teaching quality.

Mendoza: When asked to align more closely with education reformers or unions, her position is more nuanced: "I believe in reform, but I also believe in not disregarding everything altogether."

She is mostly frustrated with those who vilify teachers, as they play a crucial role in shaping a child’s future. "I’m not necessarily in favor of the concept of unions, but I wholeheartedly support teachers. I am tired of our education system, our state, and our pundits not only undervaluing teachers but also demonizing them."

Reykdal: He does not lean more towards either a pro-union or pro-reform stance, although he believes the race for education reform could potentially become more divisive on those grounds.

Candidates have mixed opinions about unions. While they support the Common Core Standards, they are concerned about the union’s advocacy for separating exams from teacher evaluations. They also have mixed opinions about business-aligned reform groups, who have been proactive in advocating for increased school funding but often prioritize standardized exams.

"It will be fascinating to observe how this situation unfolds."

(In the 2014 primary, the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers contributed the maximum donation of $950 to Reykdal, while the Washington Education Association donated the maximum amount in both the primary and general elections, totaling $1,900.)

Seaquist: "My stance is in favor of teachers and educators." He believes it is crucial to "liberate learning" and that the state should provide greater support to teachers. Based on his travels throughout the state, he has not encountered the "bad teachers" that some individuals often talk about. However, he does have certain disagreements with the union.

(Both statewide teachers unions contributed the maximum amount of $1,900 to Seaquist for both the 2014 primary and general elections. A political action committee affiliated with the League of Education Voters, a business-backed group focused on equitable school funding, also contributed the maximum amount. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in the general election that year.)


  • bensonsimpson

    Hi! I'm Benson Simpson, a 35-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about educational topics such as student motivation, creativity, and effective teaching techniques. I also run a blog about creativity and learning, which you can find at



Hi! I'm Benson Simpson, a 35-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about educational topics such as student motivation, creativity, and effective teaching techniques. I also run a blog about creativity and learning, which you can find at