Lawmakers need to suspend I-1351

The fight over reducing class sizes in K-12 public schools is far from over. Legislators who hoped to suspend Initiative 1351’s costly mandate on class size reductions hit a roadblock late Tuesday and early Wednesday morning as they raced to complete work on state budgets and avoid a government shutdown.

Unless they suspend I-1351, there is roughly a $2 billion hole in the new state operating budget that took effect July 1.

The House already provided the supermajority vote needed to suspend the ballot measure for four years. But Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate withheld votes and demanded that the Senate vote first on a separate House bill that would change school testing requirements.

We think Republicans controlling the Senate should go ahead and allow a vote on the testing bill, which it had refused previously to consider. Democrats should then follow through to suspend the class-size reduction initiative.

House Bill 2214, the testing bill, was co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater and Republican Rep. David Taylor of Moxee. It has strong bipartisan support, having passed three times in the House — the last time by a 92 to 6 vote.

Among the provisions of the testing measure is an end to the 10th-grade biology exam that was used for the first time this year as a graduation requirement. Some 2,000 high school seniors failed to graduate as a direct result of not passing it or failing to complete an alternative. This bill would give them diplomas.

The bill also provides more remedial help for seniors to master precollege work and would potentially save the state $29 million by reducing the complicated array of state tests in future years.

A quick vote on HB 2214 could open the way for getting things done on I-1351, which cannot be funded without an enormous tax increase that is no one realistically expects lawmakers to pass.

Under the two-year budget signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, about $350 million is allocated to reducing class sizes in grades K-3. That’s a start toward paying for the portion of I-1351 that offers the most return on the dollars invested.

Unless lawmakers have the will to put I-1351 back on the ballot this fall with a funding-source attached, figuring out a way to pay for the rest of the measure is a question that can wait for another day.

The Senate’s failed vote on I-1351 was not the only chaos seen at the end of the budget biennium. Inslee signed the operating budget into law just 22 minutes before the deadline to avoid a government shutdown, and the unpredictability continued well into the early morning in the Senate as well as in the Democrat-controlled House.

A bond bill paying for many projects in the $3.9 billion capital construction budget was stranded in the Senate. And a bill that lists transportation projects to be paid for by the $16 billion transportation tax package was hung up in the House.

The third overtime session that began Sunday will go on for a while longer — we hope only for a few days. The remaining bills should be passed expeditiously, and legislators should go home.