Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Tacoma Rotary Luncheon
May 6, 1999
Thank you for that introduction, Herb.
As I travel this great state of ours, I always enjoy meeting Rotarians. You make such a difference in your communities, and all over the world. You helped stamp out polio on every continent. And from Spokane, to Ellensburg, to Vancouver, to Tacoma, your local projects—your hundreds of hours of volunteerism—make your communities better places to live, work and raise a family.
I especially appreciate the efforts of Tacoma Rotarian Jim Harris and Tacoma Rotary # 8 in making the SMART program one of your Vision 2000 projects. Thanks to you, SMART, one of the longest-running tutoring programs in the nation, has expanded from one school site here in Tacoma to nine. Rotarians serve as tutors and encourage their employees to participate with paid time off.
Like the Washington Reading Corps, which we launched last August, where we have now some 12,000 volunteers tutoring some 22,000 struggling readers, SMART addresses the most important basic skill that students must have if they are to get a good education—and that is the skill of reading. So thank you again for all that you do here in the Tacoma area.
I just want to say briefly that I am very pleased with the operating budget that the legislature passed 10 days ago. It gave our administration just about all of our priorities, including:
- new money for school safety programs;
- more help for struggling students so that no child is left behind as we head into the 21st century;
- our new Washington’s Promise Scholarships, which will enable top students from working middle-class families to get scholarships—two-year college scholarships, starting with this year’s senior class;
- more teachers in our schools;
- fair compensation for our teachers;
- continuation and expansion of our Reading Corps, which many Rotarians across the state are involved in;
- a rural economic development package that will help us spread the prosperity of the Central Puget Sound to all parts of our state;
more supervision of felons once they are released back into our communities after prison;
- health insurance for working middle-class families under the federal CHIP program;
- a $100 million special endowment fund to combat teen smoking, funded partly out of the national tobacco settlement; and
- for the first time in history, the beginning of a long-term commitment to housing for migrant workers and the people who work in our fields.
All in all, this budget is the largest investment in kids and education in our state’s history. But as you just heard, it was much more than that, too. In fact, the legislature did some things of concern here to local communities, such as passing the legislation authorizing the convention center here in Tacoma. After this luncheon I will go to another event to sign that legislation. We also passed legislation that provides a local option for raising taxes to pay for the zoo, the aquarium and other natural resource centers here in Tacoma.
So I am very, very pleased. Tacoma has fared very well because of the organized efforts of your legislators, Democrats and Republicans, and the great amount of involvement such as members of the community coming down to Olympia, talking to the legislators, as well as our administration, about the needs and priorities of your area.
But because the legislators did not finish their work on the transportation budget, I have called them back into special session May 17. Transportation and a few other important issues will be on the table, and I am certainly hoping the legislators can finish their work in a week or less. Then we can truly call this legislative session one that prepared our state for the 21st century.
As you all know, education is my No. 1 priority, and I just want to again highlight your SMART program, the tutoring program, and all the work you do in the community.
I just want to elaborate on one more thing in terms of education, and that’s the Washington’s Promise Scholarships to which I alluded. The Washington’s Promise Scholarship was passed by the legislature in the budget, but for some reason it became a partisan issue. Because the budget was written by the Senate Democrats and was in fact supported overwhelmingly in the Senate on a bipartisan basis and was passed with some Republican votes in the House, the Washington’s Promise Scholarship program has been created.
The Washington’s Promise Scholarship program says that we will give out $3,000 college scholarships to the top 15 percent of every high school graduating class. And pretty soon, when 10th graders start taking the new 10th grade tests, all students who pass that 10th grade test on the first try will have those two-year college scholarships waiting for them when they graduate from high school. These scholarships can be used at public or private colleges or universities in the state of Washington.
These scholarships will be available to working middle class families. The problem we have is that if you are from a low-income family, you can get all the financial aid available. If you are from a high-income family, a college education is not a problem. But for so many students of working middle class families, the dream of a college education is so often out of reach. So isn’t it about time that we did something for working middle class families so that their children, too, will know that there are scholarships if they get top grades?
The Washington Promise Scholarships will start with this year’s senior class. But for this year, because of the short time in preparing for it and getting the data, they will be available only for the top 10 percent of every high school graduating class.
So students will be available if their families make up to 135 percent of the media family income. Not poverty level, but median family income. So for a family of five, a student qualifies if the maximum income does not exceed $82,000 a year.
Now, I want to talk about an issue that is on the minds of, I think, every single American.
That issue is violence in our schools. The horrific events at Columbine High School in Colorado will be vivid in the national consciousness for years. As a new parent, watching Emily and Dylan grow minute by minute into bright, inquisitive people, I know I would be absolutely devastated—absolutely devastated—if one of my children was among those slain or one of the slayers. Life would never be the same.
All of us must feel anguish over the epidemic of school violence. We send our children to school to learn, to be nurtured, not to be killed or assaulted. How can we stop this senseless violence in our schools? Like stamping out polio, it will take all of us working together, learning, listening, and reaching out if to get at the root causes of school violence and come up with thoughtful, long-term solutions.
The challenge is especially tough today because of the way our society has changed in the past 25 years. Today, in so many homes, both parents work all day. They send their young children out to paid caregivers, pick them up late, fight the traffic all the way home. And then they’re lucky if there is any time to truly communicate with their children before they prepare for bed and another long day of commuting and working. If this daily routine is hard when you have young children, it is even harder when you have teenagers.
My children, Emily and Dylan, are very, very young. Emily is two years old, and Dylan just a month old. But I have many friends and relatives who are raising teenagers, and they all tell Mona and me that we are going to be in for some interesting times when Emily and Dylan are in their teens.
Those of you who have teenagers know that those years are so difficult because bodies are changing, the hormones are raging, and every day is a roller coaster of emotion. It is in the teen years that "belonging" becomes so important for a young person. It is in the teen years that how you look and what you wear become such a big deal. And it is in the teen years that parents see their children start to shut them out.
Parents who have done an outstanding job—parents who have loved and nurtured and guided their children, read to them, taught them manners and taken them on trips—those parents are often the most perplexed when the teen years arrive, and suddenly those parents are shut out.
My friends and relatives who have teenagers tell me of their frustration in trying to get their kids to answer simple questions. Sometimes it sounds hilarious, this "interrogation" that goes on in the household. But those of you who have teenagers know that it can also be anxiety-producing. What IS going through their minds? What IS happening at high school? What ARE they doing with their friends?
I read an interesting column by Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal last week. Its title was "Violence in Schools Is Pushing Parents to Focus on Teenagers." The author made a number of good points, but one in particular struck me as relevant to school safety, to the tragic events in Littleton, Colorado; to Springfield, Oregon; and to Moses Lake, Washington.
Shellenbarger wrote that a lot of progress has been made in the workplace to enable parents to spend more time with their very young children. Some companies provide on-site day care, and others allow flexible hours for picking up and dropping off small kids at day care or even the elementary school.
But that kind of flexibility is almost nonexistent when it comes to dealing with teenagers. No wonder so many parents feel their teenagers are slipping away when they so rarely spend time with them. One mother interviewed by that columnist described how hard she is working to stay in touch with her 16-year-old son —driving him to baseball games, taking him skiing, and trying to keep a dialogue open. She said, "You may try to have a meaningful conversation with him, and he may blow you off three times, but you have to keep trying. You can’t let your feelings get hurt." That is powerful, thoughtful advice.
Another reason this challenge to end school violence is so hard today is because, quite frankly, it is too easy for kids to get their hands on guns. Let’s talk plainly and bluntly here. It is time to take the guns out of the hands of kids. It is time for parents to say to gun dealers, "We’ve had enough." It is time for parents to send a message to the entertainment industry: "We are tired of the glorification of violence in movies and on TV."
Clearly, in the age of fragmented families, the Internet and the easy access to guns, the issue of school violence does not have any simple solutions. We saw that last summer when the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Terry Bergeson, and our office organized a Youth Safety Summit made up of representatives from every part of in the state. That summit was the culmination of more than 50 school safety summits all across our state. In all, we got back 4,000 surveys from students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community officials.
We learned a lot from those surveys and those summits. The most important was that this is a problem that we must solve together, at the community level. We need more partnerships like the Safe School Zones project here in Tacoma, where schools and community groups work together for children’s safety.
But let me just say this: Government solutions alone are not the answer. But there are some things government can do, things that Democratic and Republican legislators have been working on long and hard.
Let me just list a few very briefly. First, invest in alternative schools that get alienated, disruptive, bullying students out of the regular classrooms. Not only will that give the serious students a better atmosphere in which to pursue their studies, it will also provide more individual attention for those students who are angry and alienated. In the new state budget I will sign this month, there is money for more alternative schools.
Second, we need to make sure juveniles released from prison are supervised after they are back on the street. These are not youths who have stolen hubcaps, painted graffiti on walls or committed shop lifting. These are young people who have committed armed robberies and worse. The budget I will sign this month will restore juvenile parole.
Third, we need to give local law enforcement and school officials the tools to deal with students who bring guns to schools or otherwise act violently. Just yesterday I signed a bill that requires any student arrested for possessing a gun on school property be detained for up to 72 hours so parents can be notified and so that those students can be evaluated by professionals.
I will sign a bill soon that provides training for teachers and principals so that they can better deal with violent and disruptive students. Another bill I will sign requires law enforcement and school officials to share more information on kids who have a history of disciplinary action or criminal behavior.
Beyond these measures, there are still more things we can do. When I call the legislature back into special session on May 17, I will urge them to focus on other ways to deal with violence in our schools.
One approach would address what apparently was the case in Colorado. That is, the alienation and anger of the two young men who did the killings was well-known within the school. They threatened classmates off the school grounds, in some cases brandishing weapons. One parent had even complained to the authorities about threats to his child made by one of the young killers. The warning signs were there, but they went unheeded.
So one proposal I hope the legislature will consider is to establish programs and informational tools to spot potential violence in schools before it breaks out. In most cases, our kids know who is talking about guns all the time. They know who is talking about "blowing up" the school. And yet, teenagers are notoriously reluctant to "rat" on peers, even when they themselves dislike or fear them. Teaching students how to alert the authorities to these threats – without endangering themselves or trampling on individual rights – is a matter of education. It can be done. And because television has focused relentlessly on the Colorado tragedy, our consciousness has been raised to a level that should enable more people to accept helpful information about solutions.
We had an example of this raised consciousness in Tacoma just yesterday. A 14-year-old student was arrested yesterday for building a bomb in his home. He told fellow students he wanted to use it to blow up his neighborhood middle school. But those students took it seriously and alerted teachers to the threats. And those teachers and administrators took it seriously and contacted the police. The police found the bomb and the boy is now in custody. That’s the way the system should work. But we need to make sure it works all across our state.
Something else that works is a powerful and consistent message in the media. Do you remember those public service announcements that showed an egg accompanied by the words, "This is your brain"? It was followed by a photo of the egg being cracked into a skillet to fry. The narrator said, "This is your brain on drugs."
These kinds of messages, often produced by teenagers themselves, can be very, very effective. So let’s apply the same creative energies of both our psychologists and our ad marketers to teach youths how to alert their parents and their teachers when they see a pattern of violent threats developing.
And we must also face the fact that it’s far too easy for kids to get their hands on guns. When the Legislature comes back into session, I’m asking them to pass the Whitney Graves bill. This would require parents who keep guns at home to store them safely, where children can’t get their hands on them. And it would require gun dealers to sell or give trigger locks with every gun they sell. That’s just common sense.
But no matter what laws we pass, the tragedy of school violence can only be solved if parents, grandparents, family friends, and, most importantly, the young people themselves are actively involved. We simply must reach out to each other more often. We simply must spend more time taking care of each other.
Mona and I want the best for Emily and Dylan. We want the best for all of the children in our state. Our children should know that we love them and that we are there when they need us. They should be able to go to school to learn, to be nurtured, not to be maimed or killed. We owe it to our children to look for real solutions to school violence.
Thank you all very much.