Whoever becomes Washington’s next state superintendent of public instruction will do so against a backdrop of uncertainty.
Decisions will be made by legislators and judges over basic education and how to pay for it; debates will continue over charter schools, the role of state testing, teacher shortages and the disturbing fact that inequities in funding are determined by a student’s zip code.
The two candidates for the nonpartisan post on the Nov. 8 ballot, Erin Jones of Tacoma and Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater, have both been in the trenches as teachers, and both are passionate about closing the achievement gap.
But Jones, a dynamic educator who has built a career around K-12 education and worked for two OSPI chiefs including current Superintendent Randy Dorn, ultimately wins our endorsement.
Jones will tell you she’s the first black woman to run for a Washington state office, further proof in a long list of evidence that she’s a change agent.
In 2007, she won the national Milken Educator of the Year, the teacher’s equivalent of an Oscar. In 2013, she was named one of 10 White House Champions of Change for Educational Excellence for African Americans, and the Washington PTA selected her as its 2015 Educator of the year.
It hasn’t all been accolades. Jones was recently criticized for comments she made about the appropriateness of gender and sexual orientation discussions in the kindergarten classroom. She was even “unendorsed” by The Stranger, a Seattle publication, because of them.
But look at how she lives her life, and you’ll see advocacy for the LGBTQ community both professionally and personally. Two young adults who are gay call her mom, and nothing in her 25-year career points to exclusion or discrimination.
Her opponent, Reykdal, has served three terms in the state House representing Thurston County and recently worked as deputy director for the Washington Board for Community and Technical Colleges. He has administrative chops to run OSPI, but his legislative record (and strong support from the state teachers union) reflect lockstep thinking that has blocked the path to meaningful education reform.
It’s going to take innovative ideas to close Washington’s achievement gap, and Jones has plenty of them.
Washington schools get critical funding from state trust lands, which is why public lands commissioner might be the most undervalued position on the ballot.
The next commissioner, who will replace incumbent Peter Goldmark, must fight to preserve Washington’s natural resources while maximizing public revenue from millions of acres of state-owned forests, shorelines, farmlands and commercial properties.
Both candidates, Democrat Hilary Franz of Bainbridge and Republican Steve McLaughlin of Seabeck, display an even temperament, lifelong commitment to resource preservation and knowledge of the office’s demands, including the danger of wildfires.
But Franz’s political skills and holistic viewpoint, which goes beyond forests to include shorelines and salmon recovery, make her the right choice.
Franz’s 20-plus years as an environmental and land-use attorney give her business and legal acumen. As the statewide executive for Futurewise, a nonprofit advocacy group for sustainable land use and transportation, she’s worked with both public and private entities.
Her opponent, McLaughlin, is a retired Navy commander with a long public service resume, including disaster relief in communities affected by the Eastern Washington fires and the Oso landslide. But his support last year for Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers raises a red flag, suggesting an extreme property-rights philosophy we can’t get behind.
In a job that includes contending with environmental laws, advocating for clean energy development and leasing agricultural lands for revenue, Franz will bring a balanced approach. The health of our state and schools depend on it.
And speaking of health, Washington’s four-term insurance commissioner, Democrat Mike Kreidler, is our choice to manage that office another four years rather than Republican Richard Schrock, a fire commissioner in Snohomish County.
Schrock advocates for increased competition, transparency and open records, ideas we can always get behind. But even Schrock acknowledges Kreidler is the leading expert in the field, calling him the “dean” of all the nation’s public insurance commissioners.
Kreidler’s long tenure has let him see both sides of the Affordable Care Act. Under his administration, Washington took the lead on Obamacare by delivering network access and keeping adequacy rules compliant with regulations.
There’s more to be done — such as working against a repeat of this year’s 13 percent insurance rate increases — and Kreidler is best positioned to do it. He should keep striving to shield consumers from surprise emergency-room bills, a plan he started pushing (perhaps a bit prematurely) with legislators this year.