Class-size initiative views: against

Teacher talent is key to improved student performance

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Here is the summary for statewide Initiative 1351 as it appears in the Voters' Pamphlet:

This measure would direct the Legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates that I-1351 would cost $4.7 billion through 2019, although no funding mechanism has been identified. For details on the initiative, including explanatory statements, financial impact, and arguments for and against, the Voters' Pamphlet can be found at <a href="http://tinyurl.com/muxu5gj">http://tinyurl.com/muxu5gj</a>

The Columbian's recommendation on I-1351 can be found at <a href="http://tinyurl.com/kn7mnn4">http://tinyurl.com/kn7mnn4</a>

See the opposing view by Randy Dorn, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Here is the summary for statewide Initiative 1351 as it appears in the Voters’ Pamphlet:

This measure would direct the Legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates that I-1351 would cost $4.7 billion through 2019, although no funding mechanism has been identified. For details on the initiative, including explanatory statements, financial impact, and arguments for and against, the Voters’ Pamphlet can be found at http://tinyurl.com/muxu5gj

The Columbian’s recommendation on I-1351 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/kn7mnn4

See the opposing view by Randy Dorn, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

This November executives at the powerful Washington Education Association teachers union are pushing Initiative 1351, to enact an unfunded mandate on local schools to reduce class sizes. The ballot title sounds good, but the research, and a little thought, indicates Initiative 1351 would reap a windfall for the union but do little to help children in our public schools.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the Brooking Institution and the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that reducing class size does not effectively improve student learning. They identified teacher quality, not class size, as the key factor in raising learning outcomes, and that reducing class sizes by even seven or eight students does not transform a bad teacher into a good one. It does, however, consume public money that could be used to improve teacher quality.

The idea of class-size reduction has been tried before. In the 1990s, lawmakers in California and Florida embarked on large-scale programs to reduce class sizes. These states spent billions, and did not succeed in raising learning outcomes for students. In California, the class-size mandate forced administrators to hire unqualified teachers, causing the quality of classroom instruction to fall.

Class-size reduction rules allowed wealthy suburban districts to attract the best teachers away from inner-city schools, leaving urban districts to hire new and marginal-quality teachers. Admitting failure, school officials in both states are receiving waivers to avoid the class-size mandate.

Even if smaller classes were the goal, Initiative 1351 may not deliver. The measure includes no funding, so it would be up to the Legislature to shift money from school budgets, or siphon funds from higher education, social programs or other important services.

Alternatively, lawmakers could impose a tax increase to cover Initiative 1351’s $4 billion cost. One estimate shows Olympia would have to boost the state portion of the sales tax from 6.5 percent to nearly 8 percent to pay for Initiative 1351. In addition, the initiative would grant officials the authority to increase local property taxes by a combined $1.9 billion.

In a revealing comment, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn recently admitted he backs Initiative 1351 because it would send a political message to get the Legislature to raise people’s taxes.

Funds could be diverted

If funded, Initiative 1351 still might not lower class sizes. A loophole in Section 2 would allow school district officials to divert the money for other purposes. Districts could spend millions in diverted funds while their class sizes stayed the same.

Under Initiative 1351, only 29 percent of new staff positions would be classroom teachers. The majority (71 percent) of the 25,561 new positions would be nonteaching positions, including 17,081 additional support staff and 1,027 more administrators.

The WEA union, however, would do very well under their proposed initiative. State law requires teachers to pay the union or be fired. WEA executives stand to gain about $7.4 million a year in new revenue, a handsome add-on to the $33 million they get from teachers now.

Initiative 1351 makes false promises. Reducing class sizes is not the best way to improve student learning. Forcing new hiring could actually lower instructional quality. If Initiative 1351 is funded, the money might be diverted from vital social programs and, because of the Section 2 loophole, still might not be used to reduce class sizes.

The WEA union stands to profit by millions of dollars a year in forced payments from public school teachers, even though children may receive no benefit at all. Passing an unfunded mandate like Initiative 1351, one that doesn’t improve education but does increase the profits of the WEA union, will not move public education forward.


Liv Finne is the education director for Washington Policy Center, a nonprofit research organization. For additional information, please visit www.washingtonpolicy.org.