Between a deadline to address holes in school funding, growing gaps in student performance and several flashpoint social issues, the race for education chief is heating up.

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The race for state schools chief — an administrative, nonpartisan post — is often a staid affair. But between the deadline to address a multibillion-dollar hole in school funding, widening gaps in student performance, and a few hot-button issues like teaching gender identification to fourth-graders, this year’s contest has grown unusually heated.

Erin Jones, a charismatic educator and political newbie who based her campaign on promises to attack inequity in schools, has pulled ahead of her opponent in campaign contributions. During the past three weeks Jones has collected $50,000 in new donations, about half from deep-pocketed financiers and developers, for a total of $236,326.

Many of Jones’ wealthiest supporters — like David and Patricia Nierenberg, Lynn and Howard Behar and the Vulcan Corporation — have pushed for charter schools, though Jones herself remains equivocal on the publicly funded, privately operated institutions. Charters are relatively new in Washington and under legal attack. Jones says the entire debate has “devolved into an endless political and legal battle that is not contributing to our shared goals and common purpose.”

But in the race for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, charter schools havebecome a lightning rod. of division.

Chris Reykdal, a state House member endorsed by the teachers union, flat-out rejects them, and he is close on Jones’ heels with $232,826.

Reykdal insists that public education is being “battered and bruised” by organized efforts to privatize schools, and he points to Jones’ supporters as evidence.