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Statewide Class-Size Initiative Too Close To Call, Early Returns Show

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.

A statewide ballot initiative aimed at limiting class size in Washington appeared too close to call, according to early election results Tuesday.

Initiative 1351, which calls for hiring more than 7,000 teachers over the next four years in hopes of reducing class sizes in Washington's public schools, was failing by less than 1 percent.

Supporters, fueled by more than $4.5 million in contributions from local, statewide and national teachers unions, have pushed I-1351 in hopes of improving Washington's student-to-teacher ratio, which is one of the nation's worst. Only California, Oregon and Utah employ fewer teachers per student than Washington state.

Many teachers also cheered the initiative's call for hiring another 17,000 counselors, librarians and other aides by 2019.

But I-1351 doesn't specify a source of revenue, and fulfilling the initiative's provisions would cost $4.7 billion over the next four years.

With its recent contempt order in the McCleary school funding case, the state's Supreme Court has already saddled state lawmakers with the task of finding at least $2 billion in new K-12 funding during the upcoming legislative session.

State lawmakers do have the option of rejecting the initiative if voters approve it. That would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

Given that option, some I-1351 opponents noted lawmakers simply ignored a similar class size initiative that passed by wide margins in 2000.

A spokeswoman for the League of Education voters, which also opposed I-1351, noted lawmakers are already required to address class sizes in Grades K-3 as part of the McCleary mandate. The spokeswoman, Mary Beth Lambert, said that means lawmakers could point to their efforts to meet the Supreme Court's mandate as fulfilling elements of I-1351 as well.

Additionally, many see I-1351 as a means of forcing new discussions about creating new taxes or revenue sources to fund schools. The initiative also authorizes local districts to raise property taxes, which could generate another $1.9 billion in revenue statewide, according to the state's Office of Fiscal Management.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.