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Smaller class sizes still popular idea in Washington, poll says

OLYMPIA – Legislative Republicans were confident Tuesday that voters would back away from last year’s class-size initiative if given the chance this fall, even though a new poll suggests the idea remains popular.

Survey results released Tuesday by The Elway Poll said the concept of smaller classes across the board remains popular. The company asked some 500 voters around the state if they would support what seems to be the Legislature’s preferred alternative – limiting reductions to kindergarten through third grade, rather than making them in all grades – and 53 percent said the Legislature should find a way to reduce all class sizes. Only 36 percent said they favor the K-3 option in the poll with a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

A major theme in the Legislature this year has been that the state cannot fully implement Initiative 1351, approved last November, without a tax increase. There’s general agreement on trying to limit the reductions to K-3, which supporters say has the biggest impact, but no specific agreement on how to do that.

Changing an initiative in the first two years after voters approve it requires a two-thirds majority in both houses under most circumstances. Asking voters to approve such a change through a referendum only requires a simple majority, which the predominantly Republican Senate majority did Monday.

At the weekly GOP news conference, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler discounted poll results so far before a possible election, noting that I-1351 had a large margin in early polls but barely passed with only about 51 percent of the vote. The results might have been different if voters had more information about the total cost of the initiative or the opposition from state leaders, he added.

Pollster H. Stuart Elway noted that the lead for I-1351 evaporated last year as opponents hammered on the cost.

“This smaller lead might be vulnerable once real dollars are attached,” he said.

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