Despite a Tuesday poll showing continued public support of a voter-backed initiative to lower class sizes from kindergarten through high school, Republican lawmakers say that voters could be convinced to back a plan that limits class size reduction to the youngest students.
Initiative 1351 lowers class sizes in grades kindergarten through third grade to 17 students per class, and in grades 4 through 12 to 25 students per class. The measure comes with a $4.7 billion price tag over the next four years, though local districts would have greater authority to raise local taxes. Voters approved the measure 51 to 49 in November.
Both chambers have proposed paying only for class size reductions in grades K-3. The Democrat-controlled House proposed making the change by gathering two-thirds approval from lawmakers to override the initiative.
In the other chamber, the Republican-majority Senate passed a bill Monday 27-23 that would ask voters to change the initiative so class size decreases are limited to grades K-3.
Either approach would need to pass both chambers before being enacted.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, says he believes that after learning more about the struggles to pay for the measure, voters would back the change to the initiative, which passed in November 51 percent to 49 percent.
“It won by a whisper. I think when the public sees the facts about 1351 and we are making smart investments in the area where we get the best return on our investment,” Schoesler said. “Given the best parts of 1351, I suspect the voters will make the right decision.”
Schoesler was joined by other Republican lawmakers at a press conference on Tuesday that covered a variety of topics.
Their comments came as The Elway Poll released a survey showing that 53 percent of respondents said the legislature should “find a way to reduce class size in all grades.” The poll found less support — 36 percent — for limiting the class size changes to K‐3.
The Elway Poll also showed that voters were split 48 percent in favor of and 43 percent against a theoretical tax increase to pay for the class size change. The poll’s margin of error is 4.5 percent.
But Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said that another factor that could convince voters to change their minds is that plans to fund only K-3 are coming from both Democrats and Republicans.
“I think you will see most legislators on the record on the side [of] ‘1351 is unworkable,’ and that wasn’t part of the last election,” Wilcox said.
Several bills this session were introduced in response to Initiative 1351, including several bills that would add fiscal information on initiatives on ballots.