Backers of smaller class size work on ballot measure

Fourteen years after voters overwhelmingly endorsed smaller class sizes in Washington public schools, they may get a chance to embrace the concept again in November.

On Monday, a group of parents, civic leaders and members of the state’s powerful teacher union began gathering signatures for an initiative requiring fewer numbers of students in classrooms for every grade level by 2019.

And supporters think they drafted a ballot measure lawmakers can’t ignore — as they mostly did when Initiative 728 was approved in 2000 — without risking a run-in with the state Supreme Court.

They’ve worded this year’s measure, Initiative 1351, in a way that would make smaller class sizes a component of basic education which the state is legally responsible for funding.

That’s important because the Supreme Court in the McCleary case found the state is not living up to its obligation and ordered it to fully fund basic education by 2018.

The court is monitoring lawmakers’ progress. Backers think if the initiative passes and not enough is done to shrink the size of classes, lawmakers will have to answer to the justices.

By comparison, Initiative 728 essentially urged lawmakers to do the right thing but didn’t contain any means of forcing them to do so. Lawmakers later erased the initiative from the books.

“The State Supreme Court has given Washington leaders clear instructions to increase funding for education, so there is no excuse for Washington to stay 47th in the nation when it comes to class size,” Mary Howes, manager for the Class Size Counts campaign, said in a statement.

To qualify for the November ballot, supporters must turn in petitions containing the signatures of at least 246,372 registered voters by 5 p.m. July 3. The Secretary of State’s Office recommends initiative sponsors submit at least 325,000 signatures to allow for invalid signatures.

The initiative is based on identical class-size reduction bills that failed in the House and Senate this year.

It aims to shrink the size of classes in kindergarten through 12th grade shrink by up to 20 percent over a four-year period.

Under the measure, the maximum number of students would be 17 in kindergarten through 3rd grade, and 25 in fourth through 12th grades.

Schools in which more than 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, class sizes would end up at 15 students in grades K-3, 22 in 4th grade and 23 in grades 5-12.

The measure also requires the hiring of additional librarians, counselors, school nurses, teaching assistants and other staff.

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, who authored the unsuccessful Senate bill, said the initiative will allow voters to show how important they think smaller classes are to a child’s education.

“Citizens will be saying to lawmakers that as you fund the McCleary decision, make this a top priority,” he said.

But the initiative carries a potentially large price tag and no means of generating revenue to pay for it.

It could cost nearly $2.9 billion in the next two-year budget to pay for the added teachers and staff, according to a fiscal analysis prepared for the House and Senate bills. Of that, $1.4 billion is the state’s share and the rest is what local school districts would fork out.

The tab would rise to $7.1 billion in the 2017-19 budget cycle of which $3.4 billion would be the state’s portion, the analysis concluded.

“This is a big deal,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, a former school board trustee and member of the Senate education committee.

“One of the challenges with initiatives is voters are not given a funding source. They don’t have to wrestle with the decision of whether to raise taxes or cut programs,” he said. “I hope that voters will understand the ramifications.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

Talk to us

More in Local News

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee speaks with special ed Pre-K teacher Michelle Ling in her classroom at Phantom Lake Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash. Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)
Governor: Educators are now eligible for coronavirus vaccine

“This should give educators more confidence,” Jay Inslee said. Other frontline workers could soon be next.

A view of the courtyard leading to the main entrance of the new Stanwood High building on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Stanwood, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Law gives Washington high school seniors leeway to graduate

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that can waive some requirements for students who were on track before the pandemic.

A Marysville Pilchuck football player sports a spear on his helmet as the Tomahawks took on Snohomish in the Wesco 3A Championship Friday evening at Quil Ceda Stadium on November 1, 2019. School district leaders may soon need to consider dropping Marysville Pilchuck High School’s mascot, the Tomahawks. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Should Marysville Pilchuck High drop the name ‘Tomahawks’?

A state bill would ban Native American mascots and symbols from schools — unless there is tribal permission.

About a dozen metal dinosaurs sit in the front yard of a home owned by Burt Mason and Mary Saltwick on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Freeland, Washington. The couple are used to finding strangers in their yard and taking photos. Every year on their trip to Tucson, Burt and Mary bring home another figure  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Dinos on Whidbey? This Freeland yard is a Jurassic Park

These creatures from long ago won’t chomp or chase you, and you’re welcome to visit.

Maryville Getchell High School students Madison Dawson, left, Kaden Vongsa and Jenasis Lee, who made a presentation to their school board discussing mental health, lack of resources and personal stories of their peers mental health struggles. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Students plead for better mental health support from schools

Three Marysville Getchell seniors want more counselors and improved training for staff.

Parked tractor-trailers line the side of 40th Avenue NE on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Worker wonders why dead end Marysville road is rough and rutty

A stretch of 40th Avenue NE is mostly used for heavy trucking and isn’t in line for repairs soon.

Camano Island shooting leaves father dead; son arrested

Dominic Wagstaff, 21, was taken into custody late Sunday for investigation of the murder of Dean Wagstaff, 41.

People experiencing homelessness along Smith Avenue would need to find a new area to live if the Everett City Council passes a no-sit, no-lie ordinance. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Public speaks out against Everett’s ‘no-sit, no-lie’ proposal

The ordinance would target homeless people near the site of a proposed village of small shelter dwellings.

Jean Shumate (left), seen here during a February 2019 school board meeting, will retire June 30 after 20 years at the Stanwood-Camano School District superintendent. (Skagit Valley Herald)
Stanwood-Camano superintendent to retire after 20 years

Jean Shumate has been at the helm longer than any other superintendent in Snohomish County.

Most Read