(The Center Square) – Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal addressed a number of education-related topics during a Thursday update to the Washington State Board of Education, including his office’s budget request of next year’s Legislature, national exams that found a record drop in learning across the nation, and alternatives to college.
2023-25 Budget Request
“I would tell you by scale what OSPI put forward was $6 billion for the biennium, so roughly $3 billion in an average fiscal year was our budget request,” Reykdal told the board during the virtual meeting.
“Aggressive” was the word he used in July to describe his office’s ask of the Legislature during next year’s 105-day session.
“That sounds enormous,” Reykdal admitted of the proposed budget figure. “It’s large. It’s still challenging for anyone to think about.”
He added that “what we’re talking about here is a 15 to 18% increase is what we put forward.”
In terms of priorities for next year, Reykdal said he thinks the Legislature is landing on special education, transportation, student mental health, and free meals for all students.
“It’s just time that America moved into the 21st century,” Reykdal observed. “The world is crushing us on preparing students for a global world.”
State dollars, he said, can help take some of the pressure off of school districts.
“Our budget request solves a lot,” Reykdal said. “If you fund special ed for a billion dollars, you alleviate hundreds of millions of local levy dollars that districts have been paying out of pocket. If you solve transportation, you help. If you get the state to fund more counselors and nurses. We’re trying to get the Legislature to buy back the things that are truly basic ed to free up levy.”
But it’s not a panacea, he stressed.
“But I don’t want you all surprised that we’ve got all of this investment occurring and you’ve still got districts who say, ‘I’m in layoff mode.’ And they are. They genuinely and sincerely are,” Reykdal said. “And it’s mostly due to the total inequity of how the federal money went to school districts.”
Student Test Scores
Reykdal addressed the recent disappointing student test results on the National Assessment of Education Progress that showed a nationwide decline in math and reading achievements between 2019 and 2022, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted in-classroom learning.
Washington fourth-graders saw a 5 point decline in math, while eighth-graders saw a decline of 10 points. In reading, Washington fourth-graders saw a 3-point drop, and eighth-graders saw a 5-point drop.
Reykdal sought to put those results in perspective.
“So, we slipped 5 to 8 points on a basis of about 250 performance points and about 5 or 8 points against a total scale score metric of 500 points,” he said.
Reykdal said critics are making too much out of the NAEP test results.
“So there are lots of folks who wanted to use that to say we’ve fallen off a cliff,” he said. “I think that’s a very inaccurate statement. What clearly happened was impact, and that’s what we’ve never been shy about.”
Reykdal added, “The important thing for is where are we relative. So we all fell but did we fall faster and the answer is no. We were kind of right in that average.”
Alternatives to College
Reykdal lamented the divide between the college educated and the non-college educated that he characterized as a binary label in a complex culture war.
“Every student needs a post-secondary opportunity,” he said. “A high school diploma is rarely going to get it done. But I don’t care what you say…there is a culture out there that a traditional university system means you’ve got success, and if you went to a trade school, it’s because you settled on it.”
Reykdal rejected that paradigm, saying that barriers to trade careers need to be lowered for the benefit of the workforce.
“And yet the economy’s sitting there saying, ‘We don’t have enough roofers, plumbers, sheet metal workers, long-haul truck drivers, technicians, all of it,’” he noted. “And a lot of these pay incredibly well. So young people are making really rational decisions to go do those things.”