This episode of Plain Talk was intended to be a conversation with North Dakota's candidates for superintendent.

Sadly, the incumbent, Kirsten Baesler, opted not to participate, claiming she didn't have enough time to make it work, though she did offer me a one-on-one interview later in the week.

Go figure.

The challenger, Brandt Dick, did offer his time, and our conversation covered everything from why Baesler shouldn't get another term to test scores to school choice.

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"She thinks that she ... has it in the bag," Dick said of Baesler's decision not to participate in our discussion, alluding to other situations where he says Baesler has declined to engage him. "She's concerned to enter into a debate."

Dick says one of the biggest challenges facing North Dakota right now is an ongoing transition in the way local schools are funded. The new formula was launched under former Gov. Jack Dalrymple, but the state and school districts are still grappling with an equitable distribution of funds.

He also criticized Baesler for failing to talk about how to transition North Dakota students back to classrooms in places where that's not happening because of the pandemic. "I have yet to hear her say ... that we need to transition to get education back face-to-face," Dick told me.

How have North Dakota's students been performing under Baesler? "As a state, we've been going the wrong way" on test scores, Brandt said, though he acknowledged that scores aren't the only metric for student success and that the superintendent's role in them is limited.

Dick says he supports the idea of school choice for homeschooling and private schools, and that he actually started his education career at a religious school in Bismarck. Still, he has concerns about sending public dollars to private institutions that don't have an obligation to accept all students, including those with special needs.

He also says schools could do better in guiding students into what happens after graduation. "For a while, we were pushing too many kids into college," Dick said, adding that he'd like to see students given options like technical schools and other paths to success.

What's important for schools to instill in students, in a modern economy where lifetime careers are increasingly not the norm, is "grit," Dick said — an ability to be respectful and resilient.

Baesler was first elected to office in 2012 and is currently campaigning for a third term. She has an endorsement from the NDGOP's executive committee (the party didn't hold an endorsing convention this year) and the backing of Gov. Doug Burgum.

Dick is currently the superintendent of Underwood's public schools. He lives in Bismarck and has received the endorsement of the North Dakota Young Republicans. He describes himself as "conservative."

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.