We appreciate the ideals of Initiative 1351 and believe reducing class sizes is a tool in the toolbox to increase educational outcomes. As business leaders, community activists and, most importantly, parents, we don’t oppose public investments in our schools that improve educational outcomes efficiently and responsibly.
Unfortunately, I-1351 is neither efficient nor responsible. It is a redundant unfunded mandate that may not reduce class sizes while burdening taxpayers, school districts, and the legislature with unbudgeted price tags for dubious ideals.
I-1351 will cost taxpayers approximately $4.7 billion over the next four years with the goal of reducing class sizes in all grades. That’s more money than Washington spends on higher education, nursing homes, cancer research, and state parks combined.
The Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to answer this question: do the benefits of reducing the number of students in K-12 classrooms outweigh the costs? In kindergarten through third grade the answer is yes, and the Legislature is already making progress on class size reduction for lower grades – making much of 1351 duplicative. However, after third grade it was determined that “reducing class size poses a substantial risk of an unfavorable outcome – that is, where costs may often exceed benefits,” making the rest of 1351 extremely wasteful.
And the ideals of 1351 are simply out of reach for some school districts, having neither the capital nor real estate resources to absorb the requirements. Although the Bellevue School District has capital options and is prepared for long-term growth and investment, the district would need 85 classrooms to meet the requirements of 1351. In Issaquah, officials have estimated it would take north of 100 classrooms – on top of existing class size reduction requirements, the equivalent of at least five new buildings – to meet the class size reduction goals of 1351. In many more districts, the potential for such growth is totally unreachable.
Even though its ideals are difficult – if not impossible – to meet in school districts around Washington, 1351 still mandates 25,000 additional hires, most of whom will never teach in a classroom. It’s a windfall for the Washington Education Association, explaining why the teachers’ union has spent well over $1 million to fund the passage of the Initiative.
I-1351 is an unfunded mandate that will not improve educational outcomes while recklessly spending billions of taxpayer dollars, further disenfranchising voters. It will burden taxpayers and school districts and line the pockets of special interests. We urge voters to reject Initiative I-1351.
Gary Guenther is a senior vice president, partner, and member of the board of directors at Kidder Mathews, one of the largest, independent commercial real estate firms on the West Coast. He serves as the chair of the board of directors for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.