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Evan Smith | schsmith@frontier.com
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014, 10:01 a.m.

Senator introduces plan to reduce class sizes

Democratic State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe has introduced legislation to reduce class sizes in public schools throughout the state.

McAuliffe introduced a bill Wednesday that would set the number of students per class at each grade level for each of the next four years.

The bill is a response to a State Supreme Court decision last week, a decision that instructed the Legislature to develop a detailed plan for full financial support of K-12 education under the 2012 McCleary decision.

McAuliffe responded with Senate Bill 6108 to implement class size reduction for grades K-3, as required by the Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court was unequivocal – we must act now," said McAuliffe, the ranking Democratic member on the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education committee. "Our kids have been in overcrowded classrooms for too long and further delay is unacceptable. In 2012, Washington was ranked as having the fourth most crowded classrooms of any state in the nation. Research shows that small class sizes are one of the most effective investments we can make in a child's future, especially in the early grades, and passing this bill will help secure our children's success and continue our progress towards fully funding education by 2018."

Washington now pays for class sizes in grades K-3 for most classrooms at a level of 24.1 students per teacher in high poverty schools and 25.23 students per teacher in non-high poverty schools. SHB 2776, passed in 2010, requires that the state fund K-3 class sizes of 17 students per teacher for grades K-3 in all schools by the 2017-18 school year. While current law simply sets an end goal of 17 students per teacher, SB 6108 lays out year-by-year how the state can reduce class sizes each year to reach the 2018 goal.

"The Supreme Court told us that it isn't enough to have a goal – we have to outline the steps along the way to get there, too," McAuliffe said. "Students, parents, teachers and school districts need to be able to count on the state and know that we're going to deliver what we promise, and putting this kind of schedule into law will hold the legislature accountable. This is exactly the kind of plan that the Supreme Court told us in plain English that we have to have."

The Supreme Court instructed the Legislature to produce a report by April 30 outlining how it plans to reach full financial support of basic education by 2018, including the state's responsibility to pay for teacher compensation, which carries a total expected price tag of about $5 billion.

McAuliffe said that her bill represents a plan for implementing state support of class size reduction.

"We know smaller class sizes are key for closing the opportunity gap for struggling children and will help students graduate ready for college or a career," McAuliffe said. "The root of our opportunity gap is evident when we look at the results in math and literacy for disadvantaged kids entering kindergarten. Our littlest learners who struggle need small class sizes to provide them with the individual academic support that they need to succeed."

For school districts that cannot pass capital bonds, McAuliffe's bill would set up a capital budget grant program to appropriate money for school construction to help alleviate capacity pressure.

McAuliffe represents the 1st Legislative District, including most of Mountlake Terrace, all of Brier and Bothell, unincorporated areas of Snohomish County north and east of Bothell, part of Kirkland and unincorporated areas of King County between Bothell and Kirkland.

Story tags » Education & SchoolsLegislatureState politics

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