Editorial: Initiative 1351 calls for smaller classes and more staff, but no way to pay for them
Initiative 1351 makes promises about reducing class sizes, but comes with a major deficiency: no funding mechanism at a time when state lawmakers have more pressing obligations
Seattle Times Editorial
WASHINGTON voters have made the state’s once-in-a-lifetime challenge and opportunity to more fully fund and reform the state’s education system almost twice as hard.
In approving Initiative 1351, voters embraced the concept of smaller class sizes at all grade levels — except that the new law comes with no funding mechanism. That threatens to tie lawmaker’s hands in making the right investments that would best serve the state’s school children.
The Legislature already is saddled with the challenge of boosting basic education funding by $5.7 billion through 2019 to comply with the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary school finance ruling. Implementing I-1351 would require an estimated additional $4.7 billion through 2019, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
Something will have to give.
“I don’t know how you fund McCleary and 1351,” said state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We can’t fund what we already need to fund” without the addition of I-1351.
Lawmakers could cut funding to other areas of government, such as social services, raise existing taxes or impose new ones.
In the crunch, state lawmakers might have to amend or suspend I-1351, which voters appear to have passed with only 50.7 percent approval. That can’t be done without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for the first two years after voters approve an initiative. Indeed, I-1351 could follow in the footsteps of another voter-approved class size measure: Initiative 728. Approved in 2000, it was suspended, amended and repealed in 2012.
One option might be for lawmakers to return it to voters on next year’s ballot with a taxing mechanism attached.
Also, because the law passed with such a narrow margin, legislators should feel more leeway to suspend the law to concentrate on the McCleary funding challenge.
I-1351’s objectives of adding 25,000 new staff to Washington schools might just have to get in line behind more pressing matters. Those include meeting the McCleary obligation, keeping social services intact and solving Washington’s mental-health challenges.
This ambitious measure’s lack of a funding source is its biggest flaw and could force a drawn-out dismantling instead of helping students as it promised.
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).