Activists in Washington state have turned in over 300,000 signatures in an effort to compel the state to hire more than 12,000 additional teachers.
Since only 246,000 signatures are needed to put an initiative on the ballot in the Evergreen State, organizers say they are certain their proposed law will go before voters in November.
If approved by voters, Initiative 1351 would force Washington to significantly decrease the average class sizes in schools. Kindergarten through third grade classes would be capped at 17 students, while fourth through twelfth grade classes won’t be allowed to exceed 25. If a school’s student body is heavily low-income students, the caps are even stricter.
Currently, K-3 and 4-12 classrooms average about 25 and 27 students, respectively.
Proponents of the law say that Washington’s class sizes are the fourth-largest in the country and are holding back the state’s students.
“The bottom line is it helps all students succeed,” Mary Howes told the Associated Press. Howes managed the petition campaign by Class Size Counts, the group pushing the initiative.
The bill does not provide for any spending cuts or revenue increases in order to pay for the thousands of new hires, which are anticipated to cost several billion dollars a year. Supporters have pointed to income from the state’s legalization of marijuana as a possible funding source, or the repeal of what they see as excessive corporate tax breaks.
An alternative possibility is that the state legislature may find legislative workarounds to avoid enforcing the law, which is what has happened to a similar measure, Initiative 732. Passed in 2000, that initiative mandated that teachers in the state receive annual cost of living adjustments to their salaries, but the Washington legislature has repeatedly suspended it in order to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
One Republican state senator says the money simply isn’t there to pay for the initiative.
“I don’t see how we’d come up with the money to give teachers a cost-of-living raise and reduce class size. I don’t know how we’d manage it,” state Sen. Ann Rivers told the AP.
The measure is heavily backed by Washington’s state teachers union, which stands to benefit from thousands of new members.
Class sizes are one of several issues that have riven the educational debate in Washington in recent years. In 2012’s McCleary v. State of Washington, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the state government was underfunding education to an unconstitutional degree, and mandated that the state legislature begin to phase in higher spending for schools.
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