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Superintendent candidate says sex ed bill was ‘the tipping point’ for her campaign

Judy Chan, a teacher at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 prepares her classroom for the 2020-2021 school year on Sept. 08, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

In the race for Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Maia Espinoza believes she’s the better option for the role because, as she told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show, she’s a mom “with skin in the game.”

“I’ve got kids in these schools and I’ve been watching what happens in our public schools, and we’ve seen a more than double increase in student funding in our state, but we really haven’t seen a difference,” she said. “We haven’t seen a difference in student outcomes, and not much has changed really in our school system.”

Chris Reykdal, Maia Espinoza square off in debate for superintendent

When she launched her campaign, it was focused on the idea of reimagining education. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The last straw for her, she said, was the sexual education bill passed by incumbent Chris Reykdal.

“I’m not someone that’s against teaching sex ed in school,” Espinoza clarified. “That [bill] was, for me, the tipping point, … the way that my opponent made that the focus and the most important thing that we need to be doing in education. That’s what got me to jump in.”

“For years I’ve been working on education issues, and even with this administration, seeing the squandering of the money that we saw, seeing migrant students being left behind, and seeing, again, dollars associated with those students going to kind of the general fund and not serving the students that need it the most — these are the things that I think we need to be focusing on in education,” she added.

Espinoza says Reykdal ignored parents and local school districts who didn’t support the bill.

“His own survey showed that a majority of people did not want this bill,” she said.

“Nothing against teaching sex ed in school, it was just this top-down approach that was completely inappropriate, particularly in a sensitive subject like sex ed,” she added.

Espinoza says the COVID pandemic has exposed the “shortcomings” of the education system in Washington state.

“Now we have this historic opportunity to actually do it, to reimagine an education system that works for all of our students,” she said. “And that’s kind of what I had in mind going into this. I certainly have a vision for what I think that might look like, but really the idea is to collect and gather these ideas from people that have been in the system for a long time, people that work in education technology.”

Espinoza is in the process of getting a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Western Governor’s University, and expects to complete this month.

As far as teaching experience, Espinoza taught music at a low-income Catholic school one day a week.

“I saw 100 kids in one day, taught kindergarten through eighth grade, and certainly got an appreciation for what teachers do and what’s expected of them,” she said. “It was nice to see that side of the equation. As a parent, I think we have certain expectations of our schools and our teachers, but actually being in that position, in addition to holding down a full-time job and managing a couple of businesses, that one day a week job was the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

“I’ve never claimed to be a tenured teacher,” she added. “I’m a product of public schools, my kids are back again in public schools, and for the most part, have been in public schools.”

The position of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Espinoza says, requires working with other people to make things happen.

“This position really doesn’t have a whole lot of power without the people behind it, and that includes the Legislature,” she said. “This position requires working with the Legislature, and working with the State Board of Education, as well as local school districts, to actually make some of these things happen. So I think that I am very well positioned to do that.”

“I’ve got a strong statewide network and I’ve actually done quite a bit of work in Olympia. I actually have experience working with both sides of the aisle, both chambers, to be able to pass education legislation,” she added. “I have this ability to be able to bring people together, and that’s really what I’m running on is my bridge building abilities.”

WA Superintendent candidate: Education dollars ‘belong to students, not the system’

To hear Espinoza’s stance on restarting in-person learning, giving money back to students while they’re not physically in school buildings, listen to the full interview here.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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