Initiative to reduce class sizes would cost billions, no funding plan proposed

SEATTLE — A new push for smaller class sizes in the state of Washington would require 15,000 new teachers statewide.  Proponents of Initiative 1351 just started collecting signatures for a November ballot measure.  KIRO 7 found out the measure would cost billions of dollars, but there is currently no plan on how to fund it.

After identical bills in the state House and Senate failed to make it out of hearings, the issue of reducing school class sizes would go to the voters with I-1351.  The measure would reduce class sizes in K-12.

The idea is a slam dunk for Joshua Moore who has a first- grader at Coe Elementary School in Queen Anne.

“They (teachers) could probably do a better job if they had less kids in the classroom meeting each kid’s needs,” said Moore.

I-1351 would be phased in over four years and would first fund high poverty schools.  That includes all schools with 50 percent of students on free or reduced lunch.

See the attached chart for a breakdown of class size reduction per grade.

KIRO 7 asked those behind the campaign how they suggest funding it.

“The Supreme Court has told Washington's leaders they need to fully fund education and we just think this is part of that,” said I-1351 Campaign Manager Mary Howes.  “And there's no excuse for being 47th in the nation in class size.”

Howes referred to the 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling saying the state isn’t meeting its burden to fund public education.  The state Legislature has through 2018 to meet that mandate and progress has been very slow.

I-1351 mirrors the failed Senate and House bills.  An analysis for those bills shows it would cost $2.9 billion in the next 2 years.  The tab would then rise to $7.1 billion.  The state would cover roughly half with the school districts covering the rest.

KIRO 7 asked Howes if it’s realistic for the state to fund this initiative on top of the Supreme Court mandates.

“I don't think this is additional,” said Howes.  “I think this is a very basic part of education funding that we've ignored for too many years and let it get absolutely to an embarrassing point in our state.”

The campaign leaders aren’t offering any funding ideas.  And after Moore dropped his son off at school on Tuesday he agreed that it’s the lawmakers job to figure it out.

“I believe that the best value of our tax money is education,” said Moore.  “So I'm happy to pay more taxes if that's what we need.”

I-1351 proponents need 246,372 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.