Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Nov. 29, 2022

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Washington Senate approves class-size deal

Biology test for graduation delayed; House expected to wrap up session Friday

The Columbian
2 Photos
Senators gather Thursday in Olympia to watch a vote count on the Senate floor on a measure that would delay full implementation of an initiative to reduce class sizes.
Senators gather Thursday in Olympia to watch a vote count on the Senate floor on a measure that would delay full implementation of an initiative to reduce class sizes. The measure was a key component to the state's new $38.2 billion operating budget. Photo Gallery

The Senate voted Thursday to suspend a measure lowering class sizes, paving the way for the 2015 legislative session to end.

Delaying the voter-approved Initiative 1351 was a key component of the end-game compromise struck by lawmakers. Without delaying the measure, the $38.2 billion operating budget would have been in the red by $2 billion. Lawmakers also approved a measure to delay the requirement for high school students to pass a high school biology test, allowing about 2,000 students across the state to graduate.

After the votes, Senate Republicans held a press conference and hailed the session as historic. They celebrated their success in passing a “no new taxes” operating budget and cutting tuition for higher education students. Republican Senate Leader Mark Schoesler told reporters it was “unbelievable” to think college students will leave school paying less in tuition than when they first enrolled.

Republicans also praised Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, for working to pass a measure aligning the recreational and medical marijuana systems.

The House will be back in session Friday and is expected to vote on the final measures tied to a statewide transportation package.

Legislators are under a court order to adequately fund the state’s public schools. On Thursday, Republicans said they made progress toward complying with the McCleary case, but it will be up to the state’s top court to decide whether they satisfied the requirements or will face sanctions.

The state budget, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last week, will pay to lower classroom sizes in the lower grades, but delays lowering them for grades 4-12.

“K-3, we know that is the place we will get the best impact for our children,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup. “It is the place we need to implement first and make sure it’s successful. Then we can decide how to proceed four years from now.”

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, has previously told The Columbian it would have been possible for lawmakers to fund the initiative.

“If there was a willingness to truly, seriously talk about revenue and new revenue,” the measure could be funded, she said.

Supporters of I-1351 said they would explore suing the Legislature over its vote to delay implementation.

“Voters approved I-1351 over 240 days ago. It’s unacceptable — and we believe unlawful — for the Senate to now suspend the measure for students older than age 8 without having a serious discussion about the merits of smaller class sizes in the upper grades,” said Mary Howes, the backer of the sponsor, in a statement.

The Legislature is expected to adjourn Friday.

Columbian Staff Writer Lauren Dake and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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