School districts in Washington want to reduce kindergarten through third grade class sizes down to an average of 17 students by the 2017-18 school year.
But for many districts, including some in Eastern Washington, that will require an investment in new facilities that they can't afford.
For Central Valley and West Valley school districts, help is on the way. This week, the state's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction announced the districts, along with 19 others in the state, would be awarded grants to help lower class sizes. The grants will provide $234 million
in total to districts in the state.
Central Valley will receive nearly $21 million. Ben Small, CV Superintendent, says staff has been working on a plan to improve its facilities. The grant makes that process easier, and he says he is "grateful" the district was chosen.
"We are excited to get our students into better, safer learning environments sooner than we originally thought possible," he says.
District voters approved a bond worth $121.9 million to improve CV facilities in 2015. It was the first bond passed in Central Valley since 1998. As part of the bond, the district already planned
to build a new elementary school and expand five other elementary schools.
Central Valley applied for the state grant, called the K-3 Class Size Reduction grant
, in December 2015. Marla Nunberg, spokeswoman for the district, says the grant will mean an increase in classrooms, but a full plan for exactly where the money will be used should be developed within a few weeks.
West Valley School District, meanwhile, will be awarded $523,423 as part of the grant program. Sue Shields, public relations director, says the money will be used to remodel Millwood School to house kindergarten students. That, in turn, will open up three classrooms in each elementary school, which will allow space to add an additional class to each grade and lower class sizes for K-3.
Pullman School District was awarded more than $7 million as part of the grant program.
"Students deserve not only a quality education, but also the best environment in which to learn," Randy Dorn, state superintendent, said in a statement. "This means providing enough classroom space for students to be able to learn effectively, without bumping into each other."
The grants were the result of Senate Bill 6080, passed in 2015, which were awarded to districts that demonstrated the greatest need on four criteria: high necessary added-classrooms-to-available classrooms ratio in K-3; high student-to-teacher ratios; high percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch; and districts that have not raised capital funds through levies or bonds in the previous decade.