Lower class sizes matter for kids
Washington voters approved Initiative 1351, the Lower Class Sizes for a Quality Education Act, in November 2014. This was a huge victory for children in Washington. Smaller class sizes are no longer just a good idea. They are now the law, and students of all ages, of all backgrounds, from all parts of the state will have the opportunity to learn and succeed in uncrowded classrooms. When fully implemented, the new class sizes will be as follows:
- Grades K-3: 17 students
- Grades 4-6: 25 students
- Grades 7-8: 25 students
- Grades 9-12: 25 students
- Grades K-1: 15 students
- Grades 2-3: 15 students
- Grade 4: 22 students
- Grades 5-6: 23 students
- Grades 7-8: 23 students
- Grades 9-12: 23 students
The law requires that school districts maintain class-size averages at or below the new standards. There is an exception, however, for school districts that currently lack sufficient classroom space: They may use the class-size reduction funds for additional staff that provide direct services to students. This means, for example, two teachers might serve the students in one classroom, additional teaching assistants might be hired, or summer-school programs might be offered. While interim alternatives such as these may not be ideal, they will support student learning while long-term facilities issues are being resolved.
1351 also provides funding for the other qualified staff necessary to meet individual learning needs and for the safe and effective operation of schools. This includes counselors, teaching assistants, librarians, school safety officers, custodians and school nurses. For school employees in these specialized categories, 1351 provides flexibility to local school districts and does not mandate a particular staff-to-student ratio or require a particular instructional approach or program.
Resources for students in special education programs will increase based on a formula tied to 1351’s staffing allocation improvements.
Full implementation by 2018, highest needs first
1351’s improvements are phased-in over four years, giving the state two biennial budget cycles to plan and prepare. Class-size reductions under the new law will begin in the 2015 school year. Priority will be given in the first two years to the highest poverty schools and school districts so that students most in need will be the first to receive the benefits. In the 2015-17 biennium, the Legislature will provide funding for at least half of 1351’s class-size reductions and staffing increases. Full funding must be in place by the 2018-19 school year.
I-1351: Bipartisan recommendations
The reforms in 1351 are the work of the Quality Education Council (QEC), a bi-partisan panel of legislators and state education officials. The QEC was established by the Legislature in 2009 as an education reform and oversight body charged with recommending goals and priorities for Washington schools, including ongoing strategies to eliminate the achievement gap and reduce dropout rates. In its first report to the Governor and Legislature, the QEC recommended the class-size reductions and staffing allocations that have now been made law by voters through Initiative 1351.
The 2009 QEC Members were: Randy Dorn, Chair, State Superintendent; Eric Oemig, Washington State Senate; Rosemary McAuliffe, Washington State Senate; Curtis King, Washington State Senate; Joseph Zarelli, Washington State Senate; Marcy Maxwell, House of Representatives; Pat Sullivan, House of Representatives; Skip Priest, House of Representatives; Bruce Dammeier, House of Representatives; Dr. Bette Hyde, Director, Department of Early Learning; Mary Jean Ryan, State Board of Education; Stephen Rushing, Professional Educator Standards Board; Dr. Jane Gutting, Superintendent, ESD 105. Alternate: Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House.
I-1351: Long-term economic benefits
The state Office of Financial Management has estimated the cost of the initiative to be less than $1 billion a year. At the same time, Washington’s improving economy will generate an additional $2.5 billion in state revenue in the next two years.
Economists have detailed the benefits of smaller classes, concluding that smaller classes result in higher graduation rates and more students going on to college. This, in turn, results in higher earnings, less reliance on welfare and lower rates of incarceration. We can do this! In fact, we can’t afford not to!