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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Backers of class size initiative declare victory

Associated Press

SEATTLE – Backers of a measure limiting class sizes in Washington are declaring victory.

Initiative 1351 would set lower class sizes at every grade level. Backers say it would make sure class sizes are part of basic education funding and are not overlooked when lawmakers find money to pay for education reform.

As of Saturday evening, I-1351 was passing by a 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent margin and leading by 18,000 votes. In a statement, I-1351 campaign manager Mary Howes said Washington voters “are sending a strong message to the Legislature about investing in our kids and making public education a priority.”

“I’m thrilled that we’re finally going to do something for Washington kids,” she said.

Critics of the initiative said it was too expensive. State financial experts believe the measure would eventually cost the state about $2 billion a year to pay for thousands more teachers and other school staff. That would be on top of the approximately $2 billion a year the Legislature is already seeking for education reform under the McCleary state Supreme Court decision.

In the 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers are not meeting their constitutional responsibility to fully pay for basic education and that they are relying too much on local tax-levy dollars to balance the education budget. The court gave the Legislature until the 2017-18 school year to fix the problem.

Opponents of the class size initiative said the state could find better ways to spend $2 billion than on shrinking class sizes, an idea for which researchers have given mixed reviews, saying it makes a difference for learning in younger grades but isn’t as clear a benefit in middle and high school.

Washington voters overwhelmingly approved another class size reduction initiative in 2000, and 14 years later, lawmakers are just starting to pay that bill as part of their McCleary efforts. The current initiative was different, in both its scope and the way it was written.

Initiative 1351 would set lower class sizes at every grade level. The previous initiative focused on the youngest grades.

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