Despite voter approval of reduced class sizes, lawmakers say: Too bad

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington voters approved class size reductions last fall, but don’t expect to see them take effect anytime soon.  On Thursday, state lawmakers officially overturned that decision and put the measure on hold.

The lawmakers argue it’s just too expensive to implement, and ignoring it was the only way to balance the budget.

Thousands of Washingtonians will be angry with the decision, since they believe smaller class sizes are the best way to improve public schools.

But Initiative 1351 didn’t have any money attached to it.  It was all policy, no tax.  And lawmakers, who have been grappling with a big budget hole for months, argue they just don’t have the $2 billion it would take to actually make class size reductions across the state.

I-1351 required class sizes of no more than 17 students in early grades, and no more than 25 students in grades 4-12.

On Thursday, defenders of finding a way to fund I-1351 made a final, futile plea to their colleagues.

“At the end of the day, this Senate and this Legislature are treating small class sizes like they are a luxury,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds.  “In reality, I think small class sizes are like the pencils.”

A number of Democratic senators agreed to only go along with setting aside I-1351 if changes were made to the student assessment system.  They won.

As part of this deal, state testing requirements were relaxed, which, among other things, will allow 2,000 students who failed the biology assessment to graduate anyway.

Lawmakers who supported Thursday's suspension argue that they hope in the future they can find a way to finance and implement the measure.