Senate Democrats continue to frustrate fellow lawmakers, editorial boards and the general public by persisting in their refusal to accept the agreed-on budget solution for the Washington Education Association’s so-called smaller class size initiative, I-1351. They refuse to vote to suspend I-1351—though even the Democrat-controlled state House voted to do just that—until Senate Republicans accept their blackmail terms. Until then, Senate Democrats appear perfectly content to leave a $2 billion hole in the state budget.
The fact is that our state cannot afford the hefty price tag that comes with inflating the WEA’s ranks via I-1351. That’s why neither House Democrats nor Senate Republicans included complete funding for I-1351 in their initial budget proposals or any revised version that followed. Rep. Ross Hunter, the House Democrats’ budget writer, recently re-iterated that he does not support I-1351 because it is “unaffordable.”
Rather than even attempt to fund I-1351, both parties limited its application to grades kindergarten to 3rd grade when studies prove smaller class sizes to be most effective. Via Smarter Government Washington,
“The state is already reducing class sizes in grades K-3, because the science is clear that smaller class sizes in the lower grades help students learn. A study from the state’s own public policy institute, looking at Return on Investment for various educational improvements, found that investing heavily in class reduction for higher grades is far from the best use of funds. “In the upper grades, on the other hand, reducing class size poses a substantial risk of an unfavorable outcome—that is, where costs may often exceed benefits,” the study concluded.”
If there was one point of agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the budget it was that I-1351 was unaffordable and would be limited to K-3. Both parties agreed that I-1351 presented a budgetary problem that could only be solved by its removal.
As Shift reported, it wasn’t all that long ago when Senate Democrats chastised Senate Republicans for what they referred to as an “irresponsible” plan to deal with I-1351. GOP lawmakers first proposed attaching a funding mechanism to the initiative and sending it back to the voters. Democrat Senate Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson warned that the idea of sending I-1351 back to voters puts the budget “essentially out of balance immediately.”
Now Nelson—along with her fellow Senate Democrats—has changed her tune. Far from categorizing it as a pressing problem that needs a solution, Nelson appears perfectly willing to allow I-1351 to linger and unbalance the budget—though, of course, following the law by passing a balanced budget was never a priority of Democrats—all to please the WEA. Nelson wrote in an op-ed for the Seattle Times,
“Senate Democrats are realistic about I-1351. We understand it would be impossible to afford this year. We have members who are willing to vote to change the initiative, but we were clear with Senate Republicans about what that means: If we are going to pass a bill that is detrimental to kids, let’s do something significant to help them. That’s why we asked for a solution to our high-stakes testing problem.”
Notice, all of a sudden a budget that limits I-1351 (which she and fellow Democrats initially pushed to do) is “detrimental to kids.” She goes on,
“One option is SEHB 2214, which would permanently reform our punitive high-stakes testing system for all students and, more immediately, would help nearly 2,000 deserving high-school seniors, who failed to pass the required biology exam, to graduate this year. There is broad bipartisan support to change our existing testing system while keeping expectations for our kids high.”
In other words, watering down graduating standards via a WEA-backed bill somehow justifies blowing a $2 billion hole in the state budget for the purposes of blackmail. Nelson admitted what everyone knows: Senate Democrats are holding the people’s business (producing a balanced budget) hostage to their special interests’ agenda (pleasing the WEA). And, worse, Senate Democrats are using the “it’s for the kids” excuse to justify their actions.
Unfortunately for Senate Democrats, the “it’s for the kids” excuse could not be weaker in this case. Not even House Democrats are buying it. Democrat Rep. Ross Hunter recently stated why, far from helping kids, watering down testing standards would hurt kids. Hunter writes,
“In addition, it essentially removes any objective measure of knowledge in English Language Arts and Mathematics from graduation requirements. I voted “no” on this bill in the House, but I was part of a relatively lonely minority – I think it passed 92-7. I believe we could significantly reduce the number of tests required of our high school students and remove the biology requirement until we have a more comprehensive science exam, but I am not willing to completely eliminate the expectations that our students will have at mastery of at least a minimal level of algebra and be able to read with comprehension and write effectively.”
It is time for Senate Democrats to stop playing games, wrap-up the people’s business and go home. Their “it’s for the kids” excuses are old and worn-out. Certainly, no one is buying it this time around.