Can the State Afford Smaller Class Sizes and More Teachers?

Initiative 1351 has gone mostly unnoticed, perhaps because of the high-profile gun initiatives that are on the ballot this November. But for students with children or younger siblings, Initiative 1351 could bring about some big changes in that child’s classroom.

Viewed in a larger context, Initiative 1351 is another huge push towards educational reform in Washington state, originally sparked by the McCleary decision in February of 2012.

McCleary was a state Supreme Court decision in which the court ruled that Washington state was breaking the law by not fully funding K-12 education, something that is prescribed in the state constitution. Although the McCleary decision came down in 2012, the state was held in contempt for failing to meet their obligations in September of this year.

Now, Initiative 1351 aims to fix an area where McCleary has so far been unsuccessful: class sizes. To be more specific, the initiative would limit class sizes in Kindergarten to third grade to seventeen students. For fourth grade and on, class size would be capped at 25.

How does the initiative plan on paying for this? That was the first thing I asked, seeing as our own legislators are having trouble finding the money to comply with the state Supreme Court and fully fund K-12. I-1351 directs the state and local government to find the funding for decreased class sizes and additional teachers. According to the Washington Office of Financial Management, the initiative would require an additional $4.9 billion in state expenditures by 2019.

I’m left wondering, is it helpful to add this onto the legislature’s plate, along with McCleary? While I agree that reducing class sizes and improving education should be a priority for our state, I’m skeptical as to whether the legislature can find the money to fully fund K-12 education and dramatically reduce class sizes at the same time. It seems like a tall order.

According to the non-partisan Washington Policy Center, I-1351 “would make it harder for the legislature to comply with the state supreme court’s 2012 McCleary ruling… The legislature is already facing problems in providing additional funding for the program of basic education.”

With this in mind, the initiative feels somewhat incomplete or underdeveloped. There is no source of new funding proposed for these changes and the legislature is already tasked with finding money to fully funding K-12. Although smaller class sizes would be ideal, we should be putting pressure on legislators to pass a budget that will satisfy the McCleary decision, not voting yes on faulty initiatives.

illustration courtesy of Felicia Chang

illustration courtesy of Felicia Chang


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