Both Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, a largely Republican bloc that currently controls the state Senate, are avoiding tackling the bulk of Initiative 1351, a voter-passed initiative that would dramatically shrink K-12 class sizes across the state.
Inslee announced Monday during his yearly education budget proposal that he would like to see the initiative mostly tabled until the 2017-2019 budget biennium.
Meanwhile, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus indicated that it will try to suspend the narrowly passed initiative, which did not identify a funding source when it was passed. Sen. John Braun, R-Chehalis and deputy majority leader, has a bill ready to call for I-1351’s suspension. To suspend an initiative within two years of its approval, a bill needs to pass along a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate.
Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R- Puyallup, a GOP leader on education matters, said the majority coalition is looking at other options if the suspension proposal fails, but declined to elaborate on them Monday.
As the Legislature maps out the 2015-2017 state operating budget this spring, I-1351 has become a monster hurdle. It accounts for $2.25 billion of the $3.28 billion in additional funds the Legislature will need to scare up for education funding.
Inslee laid out his plan for education funding Monday evening at Bellevue’s Newport High School. The conversation was also Skyped in to three other Town Halls held at schools across the state. In total, the governor proposed $2.3 billion in education spending increases for legislators to pass during the 2015 legislative session.
Of that amount, $1.3 billion of Inslee’s plan would go to shrinking K-3 class sizes from their current 25- to-1 ratio to roughly 17-to-1 by the start of the 2016 school year. The move would do double duty, speeding up implementation of the State Supreme Court-mandated McCleary Decision and fulfilling the K-3 portion of the voter-approved class size initiative.
"We cannot fully fund 1351 in the first biennium. ... There's simply not enough money," said David Schumacher, director of the state Office of Financial Management.
Almost $600 million of Inslee’s proposed funding would go to teacher cost-of-living raises. The rest would go to a wide range of programs, including a freeze on state college tuition until 2017, $156 million for state pre-school programs and $87 million for drop-out reduction programs.
Last week, the Inslee administration indicated it will be seeking $1 billion in extra revenue through taxes and cuts for the 2015-2017 biennium. That’s less than the $2.3 billion in extra education proposals he unveiled Monday.
It’s still unclear where the difference might come from, although Inslee is expected to address that issue on Thursday when he reveals his full budget plans.