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Wash. Budget Committee Chair 'Doesn't Know How To Pay For' Class-Size Measure

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
In this Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014 photo, teacher Joy Burke checks on the work of her fifth grade students at John Hay Elementary school in Seattle.

Washington voters are narrowly passing a class-size measure that comes with a multi-billion dollar price tag.

Initiative 1351 was trailing on election night, but has since picked up votes. If it passes, Washington lawmakers will have to figure out how to fund it or muster the votes to amend it.

Washington’s budget office has projected I-1351 would require 7,500 new teachers and more than 10,000 new school staff. The estimated cost is $4.7 billion over the next four years.

“Look, I don’t know how to pay for it. That’s why I didn’t support it,” said House budget committee chair Ross Hunter.

The Democrat said the class-size measure would compound an already difficult budget situation. The legislature is under court order to come up with several billion more dollars just to adequately fund public schools.

Hunter said one option would be to amend the initiative with a two-thirds vote of the legislature. But he questioned whether many of his fellow Democrats would support that.

“Are they going to go back to their constituents and say, ‘I know 60 percent of you voted for this, but we’re not doing that,’” Hunter said.

The "Class Size Counts" measure was backed and funded by state and national teachers’ unions. They say Washington’s ranking as 47th out of 50 states in class size is unacceptable.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.