New Revenue Would Be Needed to Fund Class Size Initiative
Initiative 1351, a citizen initiative that will appear on the November ballot in Washington state, would increase the number of teachers, librarians, nurses, and other workers employed at schools, far exceeding the current staffing benchmarks required under McCleary (the Supreme Court ruling for basic education funding adequacy). The measure would require $1.4 billion in additional spending in the next two-year budget cycle, bumping the gap between our resources and spending obligations up to about $4.4 billion. While investing in our kids’ future is a smart decision, I-1351 makes it clearer that doing so will require new revenue.
In 2009 and 2010 lawmakers enacted reforms to K-12 education, which now form the basis for meeting the State Supreme Court’s order to fully fund basic education in the McCleary case. Under the reforms, schools must have a minimum number of teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff. And class sizes in kindergarten through third grade are to be lowered to no more than 17 students per class by the start of the 2017-18 school year.
On top of those reforms, I-1351 would provide over 25,000 new school staff by:
• Further lowering class sizes for high poverty K-3 schools (those in which more than 50 percent of the students are eligible to receive free and reduced-price lunches) to 15 students per class;
• Lowering class sizes in all grades above 3rd grade (see Figure 1);
• Increasing the number of librarians, principals, counselors, and other non-instructional staff in schools; and
• Adding additional district-wide staff such as grounds-keepers and maintenance workers.
What it would cost
Once fully implemented, which would be required by 2018, Initiative 1351 would cost approximately $3.8 billion per biennium above the amount necessary to fund the McCleary reforms.
Just in the next biennium, lawmakers would need to invest about $1.4 billion towards I-1351, in addition to the $2 billion installment needed for McCleary. The Office of Financial Management estimates the cost of I-1351 at $2 billion next biennium, based on current law. However, phased-in funding for McCleary, as recommended by the Joint Task Force on Education Funding, calls for an investment of $560 million in 2015-17 to lower class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. This partially overlaps with the requirements of I-1351, leaving the balance to fund I-1351 at approximately $1.4 billion.
Education investments, both for McCleary and I-1351, would come on top of funding that will be needed to maintain the same level of services currently being provided and meet other legal obligations, like paying pensions and debt. That all adds up to a significant challenge going into the next budget-writing session, where our revenues could fall short of our spending needs by $4.4 billion (see Figure 2).
It is important to note, that these estimates do not include funding needed to increase teacher salaries, which the Supreme Court described as “a significant area of underfunding by the state.”
Without an identified revenue source, I-1351 leaves it up to the legislature to determine how it will be funded. The sheer enormity of the gap between our resources and funding needs means that there is no escaping the need for new revenue. Funding I-1351 and meeting McCleary without additional revenues would be impractical. A cuts-only approach would decimate health care, child care, community colleges and universities, and other investments kids need in order to succeed in the classroom.