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Class size initiative barely passing as last votes counted

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The last mail-in ballots to be counted in Washington should decide whether a class size initiative passes.

They'll also determine the extent of Republican gains in both the state Senate and House.

Ballots counted last week showed Initiative 1351 leading by 18,000 votes - 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent.

Supporters are claiming victory for the measure that would set lower class sizes at every grade level.

"We're going to reduce class sizes for Washington students," said Mary Howes from her Kent home's dining room table.

Howes' Initiative 1351 citizen sponsor, mother and former teacher said a recent stint of substitute teaching 33, 5th graders in a high poverty school district opened her eyes to the need for smaller classrooms and more teachers.

Even the "No on 1351" supporters agree smaller classroom sizes help young learners and struggling students, but insists it's not necessary for every grade level.

"We were going to be investing a lot of money in a single solution and our kids need a lot of different kinds of solutions," said Chris Korsmo, CEO of The League of Education Voters, a non-partisan education non profit.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates phasing in 1351 could cost the state nearly 5 billion dollars. That's on top of $5 billion state requirement to fund the Supreme Court mandate to fully fund basic education said Korsmo.

When asked how 1351 will be paid for, "The state will fund it and fund it over a 4 year period so there is time to address any obstacle," said Howes.

The League of Education Voters, in operation in Washington for 14 years argues the Initiative doesn't say where the money will come from. It believes 1351's razor thin win will spark Legislative debate and what it considers a better solution.

"It's not a mandate to the legislature in that way it leaves the door open about solutions other than this one solution to what our kids need," said Korsmo.

As is 1351 would reduce class sizes. Right now Washington is 47th in the country. The initiative would caps grades K through 3rd at 17 kids per class, while grades 4 through 12 would be capped at at 25.

"It's not complicated at all, the state needs to fully fund education when they do there are going to address class size which is so important and it all fits together," said Howes.

Counties certify election results by Nov. 25.

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