Get voters’ OK on I-1351 change

The state Senate wants to know if you’ll reconsider Initiative 1351 and accept meeting just part of it.

As House and Senate continue picking over each other’s budgets, both are seeking room in the budget for I-1351, the mandate supported by 51 percent of the voters to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio in all kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms. Both House and Senate are suggesting an amendment that would apply the smaller classroom requirement to kindergarten through third grade classes, but the Senate wants to take that change back to the voters for their approval.

Full funding for I-1351 was in doubt from the day it passed, as the initiative never identified how the state was supposed to pay the $4.7 billion it would cost to implement it between now and 2019. And it landed in legislators’ laps as they continued crafting a response to the state Supreme Court mandate and the threat of contempt of court if they didn’t show adequate progress this session to fully fund K-12 education.

Although the Supreme Court will have the final say on whether the additional funding set aside for education meets its approval, there’s general agreement in Olympia to spend between $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion additional on K-12 education, enough among other responsibilities to fund reduced class sizes up to the third grade, but not the additional billions of dollars needed for class-size reductions above that.

The House ought to join in the Senate’s pitch to take the amended initiative back to the voters. It’s fair — not to mention constitutional — that voters weigh in on changes to something a majority saw as a priority. It also could be a good opportunity for voters to give their own feedback to the Legislature on how well it does, in the final weeks of the session, in funding education in general.

It’s anybody’s guess how that vote might go.

It’s not clear how many voters might have had some buyer’s remorse over their support for I-1351 and might consider smaller K-3 classroom sizes adequate for the next two years. The $4.7 billion cost estimate was available to those who read the voter’s pamphlet, but it wasn’t spelled out in the ballot title, as might be the case if legislation passes that would state an initiative’s potential costs.

Recent polling also shows a mixed reaction to spending and taxes. An Elway Poll released Monday, public radio station KUOW (94.9 FM) reported, found that 48 percent of state residents responding favored the additional education funding outlined but supported the Senate Republican’s plan not to increase or adopt new taxes, even if it meant cuts to other areas of the budget. About 43 percent favored the House Democrats’ budget, which includes a new capital gains tax, allowing the school funding and fewer budget limitations. But the same poll also found a majority considered the capital gains tax proposal “acceptable,” SeattlePI.com’s Joel Connolly reported.

House and Senate have bigger decisions to make regarding the state budgets, but putting an amended I-1351 back before the voters would be one simple fix.

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