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New education chief Chris Reykdal optimistic Legislature will fulfill court’s request

Depending on who you ask, it could cost as much as $5 billion for Washington state to bring the public school system into compliance with the state constitution. The new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, puts the price tag at $3.5 billion.

Either way, it’s a lot of money.

Related: Lawmakers brace for bruising battle over education in Olympia

On one side, you have the governor and the Democrats who are willing to raise taxes to fulfill the Supreme Court’s order to fully fund basic education. But on the other side, you have most Republicans who are not willing to raise taxes. They’d rather cut other programs such as mental health — or fire suppression — to raise the money.

Reykdal says his job will be to bring a dose of reality to the debate.

“I’ll bring an education lens,” he told Seattle’s Morning News. “I’ll say to you, if you think you’re going to cut mental health or food assistance for vulnerable populations of young kids, it’s not going to work. You can pile in all the all-day kindergarten you want, but if a kid is hungry and not doing well, it doesn’t matter.”

Reykdal says he brings a balance to the discussion about education funding.

“My job is to say what helps kids be successful from birth to graduation, and I will be seeking support for all of those things,” he said.

That being said, he criticizes the idea that the state should cut or eliminate other programs to pay for public education. He says there will always be arguments for becoming more efficient — and lawmakers should have those discussions — but he wants to encourage people to get past the rhetoric of just making cuts.

“Show me where you get $3.5 billion in a state that spends $20 billion a year,” he said.

That begs the question: Will the Legislature finally meet the challenge of fully funding education during this session?

Reykdal says it’s possible it will, or at least come close.

“I think they get close if not the whole way,” he said.

Listen to the entire interview with Reykdal below.

Related: Schools could be shut down if Legislature fails, Gov. Inslee says

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