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Democrats say sending class size initiative back to voters risks unbalanced budget

by caprecord

Legislative Democratic leaders told reporters Thursday that lawmakers in Olympia should take the lead and limit the smaller classroom sizes that voters approved in November when Initiative 1351 passed.

Both chambers’ proposed budgets override the voter-approved classroom size reductions, reducing class sizes only in grades kindergarten through three instead of K-12. But the mechanisms to make that change differ.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.
Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

Senate Republicans plan to send a referendum to the voters in November to amend the initiative.

Democrats plan to change the initiative by gathering the constitutionally required two-thirds support of the both chambers of the legislature.

House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that taking action in Olympia is the prudent route for budget writing.

“Sending it to voters is irresponsible, and puts us in a position that, we may be back in December in special session having to address,” he said.

“Their budget actually assumes that the voters will reject I-1351 when it goes back out to the ballot,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think any of us can assume that will be the case, given that the voters just approved it less than a year ago.”

The state is on the hook for lowering class sizes across all grades, unless changes are made to Initiative 1351. The measure comes with a $4.7 billion price tag over the next four years, though local districts would have greater authority to raise local taxes. Voters approved the measure 51 to 49 in November.

The two proposals also have differing requirements to pass.

The House proposal would require two-thirds approval in each legislative chamber, and a signature from the governor.

The Senate proposal would require a simple majority in both chambers for the referendum to reach the ballot, and would not need the governor’s signature. Then, the referendum would require voter approval before being enacted. If the Senate plan is approved, a referendum could appear on the ballot in November.

Citing the close vote on I-1351, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, earlier this week said voters would change their minds when faced with the information about how much the initiative will cost.

But Senate Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said, “that puts [the Senate Republicans’] budget essentially out of balance immediately.”

“This whole budget is built on an assumption of what the voters will do,” she said. “If not they have a major hole in their budget.”

Sullivan told reporters lawmakers are aware that all sides need to reach an agreement on how to amend 1351 for any of the budget proposals.

“Inaction won’t get us a result where we get a final deal and go home,” Sullivan said.