February 21, 2019

State superintendent works to reform public schools

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal speaks to AWB members during the Feb. 21, 2019 Lobby Lunch. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)
Washington’s top schools official is working hard to rewrite the rules of public education so more kids can graduate with workforce-ready skills.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal told business leaders at Thursday’s Lobby Lunch meeting that he’s led changes at his office, aimed at thinking of K-12 public education as more of a workforce development and long-term economic development system.

The effort aims to help students prepare for multiple pathways in a complicated economy, Reykdal said.

There used to be an assumption that if we pointed every kid to a baccalaureate degree, those that didn’t make it would fit in the economy somewhere, he said.

“It is not true that you simply point every kid to an advanced degree, that they will grade out of that system and naturally fit in to the economy of baccalaureates and associate degrees and technical skills and certificates,” he said. “It doesn’t actually work that way. Instead you rack up $1.5 trillion dollars in national student loan debt,” and billions in student loan defaults, he added.

“It’s a smarter system to be efficient on the front end of that,” he said. Now, the Legislature is supporting more career and technical education efforts, and other hands-on field work, which Reykdal said is a good thing.

“They want to spend more money getting my students into your workplaces as high school students, and I am down with that,” he said, highlighting the value of real-world workplace skills.

Reykdal also addressed the historic McCleary school funding issue, which played out in the courts and the Legislature over the last several years.

The bottom line, he said, is that the state’s share of gross domestic product invested in education has moved up to about 3.3 percent, now approaching the national average of 3.6 percent.

“It is tangible. It is billions of dollars per year, moving to the public education side,” he said.

As a result, the average educator salary has increased about 12 percent in recent years, which is a good thing, he added.

“We’ve basically stabilized our labor market opportunity for people to be in the profession,” he said.

Reykdal also highlighted the need to change the way schools educate students with disabilities, and make sure they have the skills necessary to succeed.

During the question and answer session, he pledged to work with business leaders to write a letter to state leaders at the Labor & Industries and Employment Security Departments, as well as the governor, to urge them to ease restrictions that prevent many high school students from getting meaningful on the job experience.

Check out video of today's event below.