The return of I-1351

As I wrote earlier, I-1351 is scheduled to become effective in 2019–21—within the four-year budget window. Plus, Gov. Inslee has proposed beginning to implement the initiative early, in 2017–19.

Over the weekend, The News Tribune ran a good story about the costly initiative’s prospects this session. Like the governor, some legislators want to implement I-1351; others would prefer to repeal it.

Some background: The initiative was approved by voters in Nov. 2014. It reduces class sizes for grades K–12 and for career and technical education and skill center programs. (The class size reductions for K–3 were already required by the McCleary decision.) I-1351 also increases allocations for non-teacher employees (including administrators, librarians, custodians, etc).

In the first year of full implementation, I-1351 requires 7,453 new teachers (on top of the 7,396 teachers already required by McCleary for K–3) and 18,108 new school and district staff. As originally approved, 50 percent of the allocation increases were to be funded in 2015–17 and all allocations were to be funded in 2017–19. (Separate from I-1351, class sizes for grades K–3 must be reduced pursuant to McCleary during the 2017–19 biennium.)

In 2015, the Legislature deferred implementation of I-1351 (EHB 2266). Thus, 50 percent of the allocation increases must now be funded in 2019–21 and the increases must be fully funded in 2021–23.

The initiative is costly. The News Tribune story says that it costs “$2 billion every two years”—that is inaccurate. The original fiscal impact statement estimated that it would cost $2 billion in the first biennium (2015–17)­—when only 50 percent of the allocations would have been funded. (Note, though, that that figure also included the impact of K–3 reductions, since the Legislature wasn’t required to fund them under McCleary during that biennium.) For the second biennium, the cost was estimated to be $2.7 billion (on top of the K–3 spending already required by McCleary)—but full implementation wasn’t scheduled until the second year of 2017–19. Thus, OFM estimated that the full biennial cost of I-1351 would be $3.8 billion (in 2019–21). And that doesn't include any capital spending for new classrooms.

As shown in the new budget outlook, given the change in implementation date, it is now estimated that I-1351 will cost $1.866 billion in 2019–21 (when only 50 percent of the allocations must be funded). In addition to that, Gov. Inslee’s proposal would add I-1351 spending of $330 million in 2017–19 and $631 million in 2019–21.

According to The News Tribune,

Democrats say they must proceed carefully when repealing elements of the initiative, because its class-size reductions and school-staffing increases now are included in the state’s definition of basic education. . . .

The court also has said lawmakers can’t alter the state’s definition of basic education solely to save money, without showing a good educational reason for the change, said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.

By repealing the whole initiative, “I think we would be in violation of court’s clear constitutional directive,” Sullivan said.

The initiative did specify,

These annual improvements are to be considered basic education funding that may be used to assist the Washington supreme court to determine the adequacy of progress in addressing the state's paramount duty in accordance with the McCleary decision.

But the 2015 bill that deferred the initiative noted that it was doing so for two educational reasons—that class size reductions in early grades show the greatest improvements in outcomes and that Washington’s teacher education programs do not produce enough teachers to fill all the new classrooms that would be required.

That seemed to pass muster with the Supreme Court. Indeed, the Supreme Court does not expect class sizes in grades 4–12 to be reduced as part of the McCleary decision—see here and here.

Add new comment