Incumbent Chris Reykdal and two vocal opponents of mandatory sex education, Maia Espinoza and Ron Higgins, were leading in election returns in the race for state schools chief, capturing 40.26%, 24% and 20.23% of voters in Tuesday night’s vote count, respectively. 

Whoever is successful in the primary and general election will guide school district superintendents around the state through an unprecedented time in public education, when nearly half of public school students in Washington could be learning online. They will supervise the financial, legal and academic welfare of some 300 school districts, earning about $140,000 annually.

The race to date has reflected the culture wars raging in public education. Though it is a nonpartisan office, Reykdal’s opponents have mostly conservative policy views, skeptical of the statewide closure of schools due to the coronavirus and the progressive causes Reykdal championed, including mandatory sex education.

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Reykdal and Espinoza are in the midst of a legal dispute that the state Supreme Court will soon decide. In June, Reykdal sued Espinoza over a sentence in her voters’ pamphlet statement claiming the incumbent championed “a policy that teaches sexual positions to 4th graders,” referring to his advocacy for the sex ed law. A Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled in Reykdal’s favor and ordered the language removed. Espinoza appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

Espinoza, a small business owner, and Higgins, a substitute teacher, would face a steep challenge to unseat Reykdal in the general election. Both have no experience as elected officials. Reykdal, a former Democratic state lawmaker, has the endorsement of the Washington Education Association (WEA) union, the race’s most powerful endorsement, and has raised the most money.

Fundraising for this race has been scarce compared to other years. Three of six candidates did not raise any money.

Reykdal’s campaign raised $94,700 as of Election Day, spending roughly $25,000. His top donors include the Muckleshoot Tribe, Boeing, WEA and the Service Employees International Union 1948, which represents classified school employees. 

Espinoza has raised $77,800 and spent $53,300, more than double the incumbent as of Election Day. Her top donors include Douglas Backous, a surgeon from Edmonds, and William Weyerhaueser, an investor with a family fortune tied to timber corporation Weyerhaeuser. (The company made a donation to Reykdal’s campaign.) 

Higgins has raised a little more than $9,300.