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Originally published Friday, October 31, 2014 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Voters beware of I-1351’s empty promise

Initiative 1351 would put an unnecessary burden on the state budget and take away time and resources from effective laws and policies.


Seattle Times Editorial

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THE campaign for Initiative 1351 emphasizes how much better smaller class sizes are for students. Voters should beware: The initiative won’t turn that vision into reality.

What the campaign doesn’t state is that the initiative is unfunded, with uncertain prospects of actually being implemented. That is what happened with the class-size initiative voters passed in 2000. Lawmakers amended it and then stopped funding it in 2010.

The state Legislature already faces a major challenge for the upcoming two-year budget cycle. The state Supreme Court has held the Legislature in contempt for not fully funding basic education fast enough under its 2012 McCleary ruling. Some estimates say the Legislature will have to pump $5.7 billion into education through 2019, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

On top of that, I-1351 would require an additional $4.7 billion in education spending through 2019 — money the state simply doesn’t have. Under the McCleary ruling, the Legislature already is committed to reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade — the period when smaller class sizes provide the most benefit for students, studies show.

But the initiative would also set class-size limits of 25 for fourth through 12th grades.

I-1351 campaign ads cite a statistic that Washington ranks 47th in the nation for average class size but, in fact, that ranking refers to student-teacher ratio, not class size.

In its 2014 annual report on state education achievement, the National Education Association, the country’s largest union for educators, warns against conflating the two measures: The “ratio of students to teachers must not be confused with ‘Average Class Size,’ which is the number of students assigned to a classroom for instructional purposes. Class size and student-teacher ratio are very different concepts and cannot be used interchangeably.”

In Washington state, the average classroom had 23.7 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That is more than the national average of 21.2 students per class, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The initiative campaign calls for schools to add 15,000 new classroom teaching positions during the next four years — a 25 percent increase above current levels of about 60,000.

Initiative 1351 would add a major financial liability to our state and would siphon away time and resources instead of letting lawmakers concentrate on pressing matters — like funding McCleary, enacting reforms that improve disappointing student outcomes, meeting pension obligations or passing a transportation package.

Vote no on I-1351 and keep our state lawmakers focused on education financing and reforms that would be most effective.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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