Even as lawmakers work to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary order to fully fund basic education, the task before them threatens to expand. The News Tribune today reports some lawmakers want to bring back the voter-approved class size initiative.
To balance the state budget two years ago, state lawmakers suspended most of a voter-approved initiative to lower class sizes.
Now, Democrats in Olympia are talking about bringing back Initiative 1351 — or at least parts of it.
As approved by voters in 2014, the initiative would lower class sizes in all grades from kindergarten to high school, while adding guidance counselors, school nurses and social workers.
But lawmakers agreed in 2015 that they couldn’t afford I-1351’s price tag of $2 billion every two years — especially as they were struggling to comply with a court order to fix the way the state pays for public schools.
After some debate, the Legislature agreed to suspend much of the initiative, keeping only the parts that would reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.
The remainder of the initiative was put off for four years, but not repealed.
Republicans favor repealing I-1351 in its entirety. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he doesn’t see a way the Legislature can pay for it.
“I think there’s no other reasonable path to fund education and other services this year,” Schoesler said. “The price tag is insurmountable.”c
Although their 2015 vote to suspend I-1351 technically is good for another two years, lawmakers still must take some kind of action this year to deal with the cost of the measure, leaders said.That’s because in 2012, lawmakers approved a rule requiring them to pass a two-year budget that balances not just over two years, but over four.
As the Legislature begins work this month to finally obey the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the case, I hope legislators won’t continue to delay a long-overdue fix in funding. When the legislative session ends, I hope I can proudly say that everything my family fought for over the last 10 years mattered.
From my travels and conversations around the state as 2016 Teacher of the Year, I know that morale in the teaching profession is low, particularly in our highest-need schools. We have a teacher shortage in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) positions and for nearly all classes in rural communities across the state. We aren’t producing enough college graduates: Washington state ranks second in the nation in the net number of trained workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher who arrive from out-of-state.
When it comes to student achievement, we’re in the middle of the pack nationally, between Nebraska and Kansas, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Rather than blaming teachers for the state of affairs, as many are wont to do, I believe there are budgetary and resource causes for much of this. Our highest-need schools lack necessary resources to do the job they’re asked of. Consider that many schools have higher numbers of special-education students, higher numbers of English Language Learners, more students experiencing housing instability, more students experiencing food insecurity, more students with chronic health issues, and more students who’ve experienced early-life trauma, more low-income students requiring more services — these schools all require more resources. But the current state-funding system delivers the opposite.
The discussions of class size, low-performing schools and funding serves to underscore that for lawmakers to deliver successfully on their McCleary obligation, they must consider how the money is spent. The challenge goes beyond just raising the money.