Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Seattle Rotary Club
March 19, 1997

This isn't the first speech I've given as Governor, but it is the first speech I've given since I became a Dad. So I just have to tell you that Emily is nine days old today, and she is getting more beautiful every day. Since she was perfect to begin with, that's saying quite a lot.

Mona and I are still a little dazed and amazed by the experience of becoming parents, but we have truly been touched by the hundreds of cards, bouquets, and baby presents that people from all over the state have sent us. And we are happy to see that knitting little booties and making hand-sewn baby quilts is still such a strong and thriving tradition in our state. It bodes well for the future of our family values.

Mona and I also like to think that this outpouring of gifts for Emily is a measure of how much people in this state care about all children.

I certainly know that the members the Seattle Four Rotary Club care deeply about kids. You live up to your motto of "service over self." You provide computers for Boys and Girls Clubs. You participate in a principal-for-a-day program. And you help students experience the Seattle Symphony.

These are commendable accomplishments for a group that is composed of some of the busiest people in Seattle. I deeply appreciate what you do for children and for education. And I intend to support your efforts by making education my first priority -- in word, deed and budget.

I will promote a greater emphasis on reading as the key to early success for every child.

I will push for greater local authority in deciding the terms of local levy elections. If education is our first priority, we ought to be able to pass school levies with the same simple majority that we require for jails, museums, and sports facilities.

I will also insist that we keep our feet firmly planted on the path to higher academic standards.

In fact, let me be blunt about this: The legislature will not go home until the funding for schools to implement higher standards is in the budget -- not at the expense of other school programs, but in addition to them.

I am willing to invest all the political capital I have in improving our schools. But in the next four years, as our state's new, higher academic standards start to take hold, your role will become even more critical than mine.

Only you can make sure local schools and students measure up to our high academic standards -- and that's the most important and urgent task on our education agenda. You must become the first line of accountability for school improvement.

In the years to come, it will be every bit as important for local communities to read their school's annual report card as it is for parents to read their children's report card. Those school report cards will tell you which schools are succeeding at raising academic achievement levels, and which schools are having trouble.

That's the accountability measure that's built into our 1993 school improvement law. That accountability measure puts people like you in the driver's seat. And it means that if you don't drive, your schools probably won't get very far.

The bargain our 1993 law struck is this: the state will set high academic standards and create assessments that measure whether students are meeting them. Then it will get out of the way, and let local parents and communities design school programs that help all students meet or exceed those standards.

Over the past three years, thousands of Washington parents, teachers, principals and business people have worked to develop our state's academic standards. Their work is now largely complete.

Now we are in the middle of developing the assessments that will measure whether students are meeting our new standards. By the end of this decade, most of the assessments will be in place.

When this developmental stage is complete, we will have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in making the change from an education system that's driven by regulations, to a system that we can hold accountable for results. Much of that investment will be special funding to local school districts so that schools and teachers can develop new strategies and teaching methods to help students meet these higher, more challenging standards. And I am proposing an additional investment in reading.

All of these investments, however, will be wasted if local communities don't get in the driver's seat and steer the course of their public schools. If your schools get bad report cards and you don't intervene to help them improve, you can expect the same results as you would from a child whose parents don't seem to care if he's getting bad grades.

I don't mean to imply by this that I think our schools are doing a bad job. On the contrary, I see encouraging signs of improvement. And I have seen great education occurring in schools across our state.

The truth is, our schools have taken an enormous amount of blame for problems not of their own making -- problems that families and communities must address.

But the simple fact is that now we have to ask more of our schools than ever before, because our kids need to learn more than ever before. The world is changing too fast and becoming too competitive for us to do otherwise.

If we want our children to achieve higher academic standards, we simply have to set higher standards of dedication to helping our schools succeed.

We must also raise the standards of accountability and excellence in our colleges and universities. That's why my budget contains new funds to address the brain drain, so that we can keep our most gifted college faculty.

We can't just play a shell game with higher education funding that moves the same dollars around in different patterns. That's why my budget has additional funds for financial aid and enrollments.

I want more students -- both young and old -- to be able to attend college. And I am not willing to trade faculty salary increases for expanded enrollment.

I've also written a budget that recognizes the importance of investing in the University of Washington, so that it can continue to serve as a wellspring of economic development and research. The biotechnology, communications, and medical research enterprises that are the pride of our economy today are the dividends of our past investments in education.

That tradition of wise investment must continue. Our future depends on it. That's why, when I say education is my first priority, I mean it.

I mean it enough to cut five percent from most state agencies so that we can invest more in education. And I mean it enough to invest 75% of all the new spending in my budget in education.

My budget makes these investments in education within the spending limits imposed by Initiative 601. And my budget leaves a $300 million reserve. My budget also allows for $200 million in property tax relief, and a roll-back of the B & O tax to pre-1993 levels, effective in 1998.

In fact, the legislation I introduced to cut the B & O tax passed the House last night, and is well on its way to becoming law.

Crafting my administration's budget has required tough trade-offs. Every state agency has made significant sacrifices to make this budget work, and to make their operations leaner and smarter. I hope that when the dust settles from this legislative session, my approach will have won the day.

I know the press has been obsessing on my early vetoes. But when I said in my inaugural address that we weren't going to settle for short-term fixes or political expediency, I meant that, too.

If we're going to provide $200 million in property tax relief, as the legislature has insisted, we ought to give more targeted tax relief to the people who need it most -- middle-class homeowners.

And I refused to sign a measure to ban same gender marriage because those marriages are already illegal. The bill I vetoed was utterly unnecessary, and needlessly divisive.

But on other issues, bipartisan cooperation is alive and well. On transportation, water issues, and the budget, we are all working together in Olympia. And heaven knows we have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks.

To succeed, we need your help. In every issue we confront, the challenge before us is to find ways to do more with less. Whether it's education or environmental protection or welfare reform, we see firsthand that if we want government to spend less, we need citizens who will do more.

If we want to restore trust in government, we have to restore people's trust in their own capacity to teach the young, to create jobs for the poor, and to care for the environment and each other.

That's why I want to conclude the same way I began: by thanking you for all you are doing to help your community thrive, and by asking you to expand your commitments to schools, to children, and to your community in the years ahead.

Thank you.
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