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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Initiative 1351 would shrink classes but raise taxes

Remember Initiative 728? It captured more than 70 percent of votes cast in 2000.

Yet the reduction in classroom sizes I-728 called for never happened, even before the recession eliminated any chance legislators could find the projected $200 million-plus per year needed to fund it. I-728 remained in suspended un-animation until this spring, when another budget squeeze finally killed it.

So the Washington Education Association and its supporters have come up with an even worse idea: Initiative 1351.

I-1351 dwarfs its predecessor in scope and cost: a projected $4.7 billion by 2019. Much of that will be an addition to the estimated $2.7 billion the Legislature must appropriate for the next biennium to satisfy the 2012 Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling, which found that the state is not meeting its constitutional, paramount responsibility to provide “ample” school funding.

If the state’s economy continues to expand, new revenues may cover the McCleary spending. If not, the Legislature will continue cannibalizing other programs, many serving children who will show up for school underfed and unprepared.

In a recent visit with The Spokesman-Review editorial board, officials from the state and Spokane community college systems said they are concerned the huge increase in K-12 spending will come at the expense of their institutions.

And Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, lists almost $1 billion in new non-education expenditures the state faces for pensions, mental health, firefighting and foster care. Jody Lawrence-Turner’s series last week on foster care showed just how acute that need is.

What would I-1351 deliver, if passed? Smaller classrooms, yes, from kindergarten all the way through high school. But the Legislature is already working on a formula that will shrink classes through the third grade, after which the benefits start to diminish.

The state Office of Management and Budget, which prepared the I-1351 fiscal note, estimates state school districts would have to hire another 7,453 teachers to head the new classrooms. But in addition to that contingent, 17,081 school-based staff might be enlisted, and 1,000 administrators. Think about that: One administrator for every eight teachers.

I-1351 does not address the capital investment that will be required to build those new classrooms. The tab for the Spokane School District – even if the initiative fails – could be $175 million.

In short, do not vote for I-1351 unless you are also prepared to raise your taxes.

Below I-1351 on the Spokane County ballot, voters will find two advisory votes, No. 8 and No. 9. We recommend those ovals remain empty. The nonbinding votes are meaningless, except to illustrate the mischief of resolving revenue issues in a vacuum.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.
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