Politics blog

Education backers launch I-1351 to reduce class sizes

OlympianApril 8, 2014 

A coalition of education supporters has launched a signature-gathering campaign for Initiative 1351, which proposes to reduce class sizes in K-12 schools over four years. Just like I-728’s class size proposal that voters approved in 2000, this measure from Class Size Counts does not identify a funding source.

Campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford said a decision has not been made on whether the campaign, which is backed by the Washington Education Association, will go strictly with volunteer signature gatherers or hire professionals to help. The measure needs 246,372 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify for the November statewide ballot, and Clifford said the group has a robust volunteer base to work with.

I-1351 spells out specific class size goals that would be reached over four years. It sets a goal of 15 students per teacher in K-3 grades in schools that have high rates of poverty and 17 in those that are not poor, for example, and higher student ratios are set for higher grades. A campaign explainer is here

The measure comes as the state Legislature is under court orders to fully fund basic education by 2017-18 school year. Lawmakers agreed to add roughly $1 billion in new funding for K-12 schools during 2013-15 directly in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers are at odds over how much new revenue is needed to boost state investments in schools, but Clifford said the campaign regards the court ruling as an order to boost state revenues for this purpose. 

“The position the state is in right now, the Supreme Court has already instructed the Legislature to come up with a significant increase in education funding. We’re saying we would like a big chunk of that to go to class size,’’ Clifford said.

The WEA, which represents teachers and other K-12 employees, backed the class size measure 14 years ago. And its Representative Assembly members formally backed the new measure last week during the union’s yearly gathering of delegates.

The campaign has support of many community leaders as well. In Thurston County, that includes county Democratic Party chairman Roger Erskine, who is a former teachers union employee, as well as school superintendents and teachers. Pierce County backers include former county Democratic Party chairman Nathe Lawver and educators.

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