- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - A new statewide poll indicates voters are not likely to OK a legislative plan to only shrink class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, instead of following the requirements of Initiative 1351.

Last November, voters approved the initiative calling on the Legislature to shrink public school class sizes in every grade.

Lawmakers have not been able to find the estimated $2 billion to make that happen, so they want to send the idea back to voters for refinement.

The Elway Poll interviewed more than 500 voters last week and found 53 percent think the Legislature should find a way to reduce class sizes in all grades. Just 36 percent approved of only shrinking classes in kindergarten through third grade.

The state Senate has passed a measure to modify Initiative 1351 by only shrinking classes in kindergarten through third grade and sending that modification back to voters for approval.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican from Ritzville, noted how close the election on the initiative was last November, 51-to-49 percent statewide. He said now there’s a true sense of what it costs, “I’m confident the voters will make the right decision.”

The state House budget includes money to pay for just kindergarten through third grade class-size reductions without a vote of the people.

When asked if they would be willing to see their taxes go up to pay for smaller classes, 48 percent told the Elway Poll they’d vote for that. Another 43 percent said they would likely vote no for the tax increase.

The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percent and did not mention how much of a tax increase they would need to pay.

The chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the Senate either has to find a way to pay for Initiative 1351 or garner the two-thirds vote needed to revise it.

“You can send 1351 back to the voters, but you cannot say the voters will have a choice of either repealing it or funding it,” Hunter said.

State law requires those two questions be asked separately, he said, and in order to have a balanced budget, the Legislature can’t wait for a November vote on paying for the initiative.

“This is part of their smoke and mirrors strategy,” Hunter said.

Republicans in the Legislature do not agree.

“This is putting it back in the citizens’ lap to allow them to decide: do you really want to raise taxes to fund all of this stuff?” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, a Republican from Snohomish.

____

AP correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this story from Olympia.

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