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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

October 16, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Round up: Washington daily newspaper editorial boards so far all reject Initiative 1351, the ‘class-size reduction’ initiative

Updated, 1:57 p.m., Oct. 22

Though a recent poll suggests Washington state voters seem poised to approve Initiative 1351, the state’s newspaper editorial boards are so far all thumbs down.

An Elway Poll, released this week, shows 66 percent of participants say they will definitely or probably vote for the initiative. Only 24 percent are definitely or probably against, and 11 percent are undecided.

Here’s The Seattle Times editorial position:

Voters should reject I-1351.Backed by the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, the initiative calls for limits on class sizes from kindergarten through high school — thus, more classrooms and staff members would be needed to meet that requirement. It provides no source of funding for this generous expenditure, though sponsors say it would cost an additional $1 billion per year. They argue blithely the money would come from additional tax revenue at the state level.

The next question: What money is that?

But we are not alone. Nine other daily newspapers from the News Tribune of Tacoma to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin in the state’s southeast corner are recommending voters reject this measure. Here are excerpts of their full editorials:

If initiatives could be charged with crimes, I-1351 – the class size measure on November’s ballot – would be convicted of malicious mischief. Innocuous as it sounds, it is a grave threat to Washington’s safety net – to funding for foster children, early learning, homeless families, foster children and the mentally ill. If approved, it could also push the Legislature to further cannibalize the state’s higher education system.

— The News Tribune of Tacoma

Washington cannot afford Initiative 1351.

A fiscal note released Wednesday by the Office of Financial Management estimates the class size reductions required by I-1351 would add $4.7 billion to the cost of K-12 education in Washington through 2019. But that’s an understatement.

— The Spokesman-Review, Spokane

Initiative 1351, which would mandate smaller class sizes in public schools across the state, is the wrong idea at the wrong time and should be rejected by voters. The idea sounds appealing; who wouldn’t advocate for smaller class sizes? But weighed against the difficult budget task already facing the Legislature and against valid questions regarding whether smaller classes enhance learning, the arguments in favor of the initiative prove to be paper thin. Because of that, The Columbian urges a “no” vote from the electorate. As always, this is simply a recommendation. We have faith in the ability of voters to examine the issues and reach their own conclusions.

— The Columbian, Vancouver

Small class sizes in our schools sound like a good idea to us and to the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians who signed a petition to get Initiative 1351 on the ballot. Before voting, however, people need to look beyond the feel-good sound bites.

If you research I-1351 you will find lots of numbers: numbers about how many kids are in an average class size in Washington, numbers that rank us with the rest of the nation, numbers on how many more teachers we need to hire.

You will not, however, find numbers on how much I-1351 will cost.

— The Tri-City Herald

Voters should reject I-1351.The Washington Education Association is pushing the initiative, which comes with a $1 billion price tag, and recklessly suggests it can be funded by some magical new tax revenue. Even strong Democrats, such as Sen. Jamie Pedersen of Seattle have backed away from this initiative, as have other groups like the League of Education Voters.

— The Olympian

Initiative 1351 requires the Legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools. Sounds great, but it is not affordable. The state is currently under court order to fully fund education, which means lawmakers need to carve about $2 billion from other parts of state government or raise taxes to comply. Approving I-1351 with its specific demands and no funding mechanism will further complicate the state’s effort to target more dollars to education.

— Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Initiative 1351 should serve as this year’s poster child of cynical political ploys. This feel-good measure, pushed onto the Washington ballot by teachers unions, would direct the Legislature to dedicate more money to reduce K-12 classroom sizes and “increase staffing support” — translation: more teachers — with a focus on high-poverty schools.

— Yakima Herald-Republic

Initiative 1351 on the current ballot is an irresponsible, self-serving, budget bashing measure that exploits a soft spot with voters while hiding the enormous, untenable price they will be forced to pay. Worse, the research suggests all that expense and sacrifice will bring little or no improvement in the education of their children. Nothing.

All instinct and sense calls for a no vote, but Initiative 1351 rises from a political strategy that voids sense and plucks at emotion. The ballot title purrs: “ … Direct the Legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools.” Who wouldn’t want that?

–The Wenatchee World (Need subscription to read full editorial.)

Here’s where the initiative’s flaws start to outweigh its good intentions:While the initiative would hire more teachers, it provides no funding for additional classroom space, improving the student-teacher ratio but not the classroom squeeze for some schools. Those who vote for I-1351 have to know that more funding from the state and through school district bonds will be necessary to provide the space needed for additional classrooms for more teachers.The state Office of Financial Management puts the initiative’s costs at nearly $5 billion through 2019. The initiative provides no funding source, leaving that decision to the Legislature, which at the same time must find funding to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling to fully fund education, pegged at $1 billion to $3 billion each for the next two bienniums.

–The Herald of Everett

Update: This post was updated at 7:25, Friday, Oct. 17, to add the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board’s position. This post was updated again at 11:45 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 21, to add the Wenatchee World editorial board’s position. This post was updated again at 1:57 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 22, to add The Herald of Everett editorial board’s position.

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