Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Grays Harbor Chamber of Commerce
October 12, 1999
BUILDING THE BRIDGE BETWEEN THE ECONOMY AND EDUCATION
Thank you all for coming and for having me here today. We declared Aberdeen Capital for a Day because as President Lincoln declared, government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Therefore, government must listen to the people. Abraham Lincoln decreed it so in his Gettysburg Address and it is still true today.
To me, being governor means providing the link between government policies and the people those policies affect—the people of Washington State. I often say that not all wisdom resides in Olympia. And I bet there are some of you who would say no wisdom resides in Olympia. The purpose of Capital for a Day is to bring some wisdom to Olympia!
We’re here today to hear what you have to say. We’re here to address your concerns. We’re here to gather information so that when we go back to Olympia, we’ll have the voices of Grays Harbor County fresh in our minds.
Another way to keep us up on what’s happening in Grays Harbor is to fill out your 2000 Census that should arrive in the mail any day.
This morning we took a tour of Grays Harbor. We attended a groundbreaking at Commerce Park and visited the Industrial Waterline Project where I presented a 3.5 million-dollar check that the Legislature authorized for this project. We saw the Commerce Street Business Park, the new Gateway Mall project in east Aberdeen, and the Waterfront Walkway. The state has provided funds for each of these projects.
This afternoon we will attend a workforce training event at the Grays Harbor Community College, where we’ll also engage in a roundtable discussion about economic development. We’ll have a cabinet meeting at Aberdeen High School, and then we’ll join you all to have some good food and some good fun at the Town Hall this evening. Thanks to Mayor Roger Jump and Casa Mia for providing a barbecue steak dinner for us!
You’ve gone through a very difficult transition in the wake of logging and fishing reductions, and I want to commend you for the way you stood up to the challenge of change. The state agencies are trying to be better partners with you to make your communities stronger and more vibrant. We are trying to make government more efficient, responsive, and focussed on the needs of every day people.
We’re on the brink of the new millennium. There are 73 shopping days left until Christmas, and only 79 until the 21st Century. Now is the time to prepare for the future, folks.
And the two primary challenges that face us as we barrel into the 21st century are: the training of our workforce and the education of our children.
Owners of small businesses and large corporations every day say that what they need most are highly trained workers. And the decision of businesses to relocate or expand in rural areas depends often on the availability of trained workers and college systems producing a future stream of qualified workers. Businesses have to go to other states—even other countries—to recruit qualified people to fill their 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, mill workers and fishers. 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; one that is being restructured to be even better.
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 and technical college system exactly what they want their workers to know. The system set corresponding standards and community colleges designed programs to teach students those exact skills. But more industries and occupations need skill standards established.
Imagine honing the skills of your future workers while they’re still in high school and 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.
If each and every one of you contacts your industry association, and explains what skills you need your workers to have, we will be a veritable economic 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. And businesses will be more willing to locate in rural parts of our state because they will know they’ll have the trained workforce they need.
But 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 two-year scholarships are available for low-income and middle-income students who attend public or private Washington colleges or universities. 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-income families.
It was great to see the parents, the grandparents, entire families attending these ceremonies. Lots of these kids represent the first in their families ever to attend college.
These students earned scholarships by scoring in the top ten percent of their senior classes. But that’s just the top ten-percent. We want every child who achieves in high school to have the opportunity to pursue a college education. I want scholarships to eventually go to all students who pass the 10th grade test. 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 after meeting the standards? 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 initiated 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 in the subjects they teach. And we need to reward the teachers and the 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 so that teachers and volunteers were able to reach more than 22,000 struggling readers in our schools with one-on-one reading instruction. And guess what? The reading ability of those 22,000 students jumped dramatically. Reading Corps schools’ test scores 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 tested 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.
I urge you today to commit to the education of our children. I urge you to give your employees one hour a week of paid-time—or unpaid time—so that they can teach kids the magic of reading in our Washington Reading Corps. 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 21st century.
In closing, I urge you one more time—be impatient, not complacent. 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 you to help make Washington a better place to live, to work, and to raise a family. Thank you very much.