Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Olympic College Foundation’s Columbus Day Luncheon
October 11, 1999
THE POWER OF EDUCATION TO CHANGE LIVES
Thank you so much for having me here today. I commend you for being here—for caring about education. Education is my number one priority, and your presence here today assures me that you, too, prioritize education and want to join me in pursuit of my Excellence in Education agenda. Thank you.
The pace of the world is ever escalating. Especially with the new millennium less than 90 days away. Trying to keep up with our jobs, our families, and the ever-evolving world of technology—it can feel like we’re walking a tightrope at a circus while trying to juggle all of our responsibilities. But with the safety net of education spreading beneath us, we will always bounce back. Education teaches us to see our problems as challenges. Education is our most valuable asset. Which is why it is imperative that we do everything to make sure that every man, woman and child in Washington gets an excellent education.
Seeing education as a safety net is appropriate because to be effective, we need to weave schools, government, businesses and community members together into a tight and cohesive education system.
That’s why the Olympic College Foundation is so important. Only with the strong support of community groups can we create the strongest educational system in the nation. We need to educate our children and our adult workforce.
Workforce training programs are crucial, and I’m very pleased with the committed participation of Olympic College.
Owners of small business and large corporations every day say that what they need most are highly trained workers. You have to go to other states—even other countries—to recruit qualified people to fill your positions. Yet in 1999, 53,000 Washingtonians lost their jobs because they worked for declining industries. Why are we importing workers, when Washingtonians are looking for and wanting work?
Aerospace machinists, aerospace engineers, brewery workers, defense workers and mill workers. These are smart people. But we live in a world of specialization. Their specific skills don’t match those on your job descriptions. So they need to be retrained. It makes no sense, in this time of prosperity, to turn our backs on dislocated workers when many high-wage jobs are going unfilled.
Especially since we already have a workforce-training program in place.
With input from businesses like yours, the state community college system has created skill standards for 47 specific occupations in 18 industries—from software to food processing.
Businesses told the state community college system exactly what they want their workers to know. The system set corresponding standards and our community and technical colleges have designed programs to teach students those exact skills. But more industries and occupations need skill standards established.
Right here at Olympic College there is a whole host of professional and technical skill-development courses and programs that assist people in retraining, and people in their first career training program. During the 1998-1999 academic year, Olympic College re-trained 236 displaced workers.
With programs like these in place, businesses can hone the skills of future workers while they’re still in college—before they even apply for jobs. Why stop at writing a job description and hoping someone will come along and fit the bill, when you could have a hand in developing the course curriculum? That way, when applicants apply for jobs, they will have certificates in their hands as good as gold—proof that they know what they need to know to get the job done.
Additionally, I proposed and the Legislature agreed to fund grants for community and technical colleges to expand their information technology and computer science programs. If your company donates money to these programs, the state will match the amount you donate in grant form—up to $300,000 per college.
If each and every one of you contacts your industry association, and explains what skills you need your workers to have, and if you all take advantage of the state matching grants, we will be a veritable force in the new millennium.
We’ll have the highest-skilled, smartest, most adaptable workers you can find, and we won’t be importing them from all over the country, because our higher education system will graduate enough high-skilled, innovative workers to fill our jobs.
But we must always keep the big picture of the future in mind. It won’t matter that we have highly-trained workers in high-wage positions if our children aren’t smart enough to fill the next round of job openings!
Our children are our future. We’ve got to insist on excellence in education now. When it comes to education, it’s pay now or pay an awfully lot more later. Or worse, crash later.
I’ve always said education is society’s great equalizer. Well, education is also the economy’s great energizer.
And as we barrel into the 21st century, we can’t leave anyone behind. We have to be impatient, not complacent! We can’t lull ourselves into believing that just because we’ve put higher academic standards in place that we can just sit back and wait for the harvest. We’ve done great work by putting the standards in place, but frankly, folks, the hard work has just begun. We need to be able to reward those students who meet the standards, and intervene when schools aren’t performing well.
This last two weeks I’ve been around our state hand-delivering some of the 2,300 Washington Promise Scholarships to the top high school graduates of 1999—who are in their first weeks of classes as college freshman. These scholarships are available for low-income and middle-income students. 80% of these recipients did not financially qualify for any other state financial aid. We are trying to make the American dream of a college education affordable and obtainable for working, middle-class families.
It was great to see the parents, the grandparents, entire families attending these ceremonies; kids who represented the first in their families ever to attend college.
These students earned scholarships by scoring in the top ten percent of their senior classes.
In fact, roughly 25 Promise Scholarships were awarded to first-year students right here at Olympic College and we’re lucky enough to have a few of them with us today. We have our future right here in this room.
We have Steve Moshay. Steve and family, please stand. Steve graduated in the top ten percent of his class at Bremerton High. He’s studying journalism and has an interest in film. In fact, he was a featured extra in the recent film, Ten Things I Hate About You. Steve, congratulations on excelling.
We have Rhiannon Rouse and her family with us today. Rhiannon is also from the top ten percent of Bremerton’s 1999 graduating class. Rhiannon could you please stand? Rhiannon has not yet decided on a major yet, but is interested in counseling. Rhiannon, congratulations on excelling.
We also have Daniel Collins, from the top ten percent of Central Kitsap High School. Daniel and family, please stand. Daniel is studying Criminal Justice and wants to become a Police Officer. Daniel, congratulations on excelling.
I’m proud of these students for graduating in the top ten percent of their class. But what about the rest of the high-achieving high school graduates? I want every child who achieves in high school to have the opportunity to pursue a college education. I hope the Legislature will make Promise Scholarships permanent. Because if we don’t reward our children for excelling, they will have no incentive to do so.
I don’t mean to imply that we haven’t already moved heaven and earth to reform our education system. Because we have. But we can’t stop now. If we stop now, we’ll lose our momentum and roll back down the hill to where we were two years ago when only 47% of our fourth graders met the tough new standards in reading. We’re up to 60% now, but what incentive do our children have to meet those standards if they can’t afford to go to college if they pass the test? And what incentive do teachers have to get our children there?
We’ve raised teachers’ salaries to ensure that we attract and retain the brightest teachers in America. And that’s great. And we’ve instigated salary bonuses for teachers who go the extra mile and obtain national board certification. And that’s great, too, but we also need to impose standards and tests for teachers to ensure competence. And we need to reward the teachers and schools that improve student achievement and intervene if they don’t.
We also need to reduce our class sizes to increase the amount of individualized contact between students and their teachers. We’ve learned a lot from our Washington Reading Corps program. When those initial test stores came back a couple of years ago, and only 47% of our fourth graders were reading at the standards, we knew we had to do something. So we created the Reading Corps, which is a one-on-one tutoring program. Last year more than 11,000 volunteers stepped up to the plate and tutored more than 22,000 struggling readers in our schools. And guess what? The reading ability of those 22,000 students jumped dramatically. And the test scores for the entire schools with Reading Corps programs improved at almost twice the rate of schools that didn’t have Reading Corps Programs.
So imagine the benefits we could reap from reducing class sizes to allow more individualized instruction?
This is a crucial time. If we don’t continue to push forward with education reform, all of the work we have done so far will be pointless. At the 1999 National Education Summit in New York last week, IBM chief Lou Gerstner said, “We’ve got to have the guts and the political will to press forward with the commitments we’ve made to one another, to our nation, and most importantly to our kids and their future.”
All of us in this room have got to make that commitment.
I promise I will remain committed to creating the strongest education system in the nation. I will not slow down until every child meets our tough, new education standards and is rewarded for doing so. I will not slow down until every teacher is testing for competence and is rewarded for excellence. I will not slow down until the bridge between the economy and education is so strong that no blast will shake it.
Join me in this commitment. The great German philosopher, Goethe, said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the choice to draw back, always ineffectiveness.”
Well, I urge you today to commit to the education of our children. Give your employees one hour a week of paid-time so that they can teach kids the magic of reading in our Washington Reading Corps. Call 1-800-323-2550 and get involved. I urge you to join me in my commitment to institute teacher testing, to reduce class size, and to keep the Promise Scholarship program going strong. Let’s not leave a single child behind as we enter an exciting new high-tech, global century.
H.G. Wells said that history is a race between education and catastrophe. Well, the race is on and the future is here. Education is freedom, and it is our responsibility as the leaders of society to sustain the land of the free—to make Washington State a State of Learning.
I know I can count on your help to make Washington a great place to live, work and raise a family. Thank you very much.