Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
January 12, 2000
Thank you, Don Neilson, for your kind introduction.
I'm pleased and honored to be here today with what I'm told is the largest Rotary Club in the world. Looking at the size of this audience, most of your membership must be here today.
I'm also told that you are the fourth oldest Rotary in the world. I find that hard to believe. You all look too young for that to be possible!
Maybe it's just that I got my AARP card in the mail the other day. I'm no where near retirement. I hope…
The Rotary, throughout its long history, has played an important, stabilizing role in our constantly changing society.
You've stepped in to assist others worldwide in their times of need. You've provided food to starving families in North Korea, built schools in China and elsewhere, and, closer to home, are providing a grant to the Downtown YMCA for the creation of a new Seattle Rotary Education Center.
Given my interest in education, I was happy to learn that the Seattle Rotary is also a strong supporter of the Seattle Public Schools through its Principal for a Day program and numerous scholarship and awards programs and activities.
These efforts send a positive, inspirational message to honor youth who have achieved academic excellence or who have overcome overwhelming odds in their quest to finish school.
As important as education has been in the past, it will be even more important in this brand new millennium we've just entered.
When I look into the future of the state of Washington, I see a Washington where our kids go to outstanding schools. Where they pass their achievement tests with flying colors. Where the best teachers in the nation work in state-of-the-art school buildings. Where a college education is available and affordable to anyone who works hard and earns it.
And where our schools are free from violence, crime and drugs.
The Washington I see is a place where our families-our children-can continue to live in their home towns and find family wage jobs. Where our economy is vibrant, unemployment is low and hardly anyone needs welfare.
Where a young family can find an affordable house that doesn't force them to live paycheck to paycheck, and our senior citizens can afford to live in their own homes.
Where everyone has affordable and accessible health care, and medical decisions are made by doctors and their patients, not accountants.
Where it is safe to walk the streets alone at night; where neighbor looks out for neighbor.
I see a Washington with pure air, clean water, healthy forests and flourishing farmlands. With no endangered species, and rivers teeming with wild salmon.
Is this an impossible dream? I don't think so and neither should you. Together, we can make this dream a reality.
And the most important item on our agenda is our children. They are Washington's future. Our children will soon fill the seats you're sitting in today. They will be the doctors and dentists who take care of us. They will be the farmers, the scientists, the grocery store managers, the artists, the teachers, the engineers. And one of them may stand here, some day, as Governor.
The key to their future, and the key to our future, is the education of those children. Education is the sword of democracy; the excaliber of opportunity, and yes, the great equalizer.
Our children deserve our best. So we need the best teachers in our classrooms. Our new teachers need to be tested and effective. Our children need small classes and individual attention to meet the tough academic standards we have established.
Our challenge is 100 percent literacy. 100 percent high school graduation. We've got to have Promise Scholarships, so hard-working high school graduates can get the higher education they need to get good-paying jobs. And we need an education system that provides a lifetime of learning opportunities because the need for new knowledge and new skills is moving at light-speed. And we've got to provide the training and retraining our workers need for the jobs of the future. Every working person knows the truth about the workplace of the 21st century: If you don't keep up to date, you'll be left behind.
It does not make sense that our state, with one of the highest per capita income levels in America, has the third most crowded classes in our nation. And it does not make sense that Washington is one of only five states that don't require new teachers to take tests to prove their mastery. This is simply unacceptable.
I've seen classrooms with 30 kids to a teacher. I've met high school graduates who can barely read. It's not right, and it has to stop. If we commit to eliminating crowed classrooms, our teachers will have the chance to teach and our children will have a better chance to learn.
So I propose that we make a down payment on eliminating overcrowded classrooms by using savings in the state education budget to hire 1,000 effective teachers in the next school year.
We've laid the foundation for the best education system in the nation by enacting accountability reforms. We've set tough standards for students and we're holding schools accountable for results. Add teacher testing and professional standards to this equation, and we've got a rock-solid foundation for what comes next-smaller class rooms and higher academic achievement. Let us fulfill our duty to the future.
Washingtonians have proved over and over again that if we give communities more power, they will use that power for the greater good-for our children. So let's let local school boards keep more of the state property taxes generated in their own communities-to invest in their schools. Local schools will benefit without any tax increase, and this way they can invest over a billion dollars in schools over the next 6 years.
Local school districts will have great flexibility in using this money to make classes smaller, to provide more individual attention and instruction. And they can provide after school and weekend programs for children who need extra time or extra attention.
And we can take yet another big step for schools - and taxpayers - by settling once and for all how we invest our surplus revenue. I propose that we share that money-split it fifty-fifty between schools and taxpayers.
Schools will improve and taxpayers will see surplus tax dollars going back into their pockets. Spending limits are here to stay. But the whole point of Initiative 601 was to limit government spending of taxpayers dollars and to generate more money for schools. So let's put that money back into the pockets of the citizens, where it belongs, and into schools, where it is needed.
I know that many of you out there are wondering how we can make this leap forward in education and property tax relief in the form of a 6% reduction for every citizen after the passage of Initiative 695. But I ask you, how can we not?
We can meet the challenges of Initiative 695. We can help local governments to deal with their shortages in police, fire protection, and transit, and we will work with the Legislature on key transportation projects, but not at the expense of educational excellence.
I heard the voters on Initiative 695. I heard them loud and clear. I respect the initiative process our state holds so dear. And I regard the voters as both the customers and the shareholders of the state of Washington.
And those shareholders said their tax burden was too great, and that they want effective, efficient government. And I stand here today to say that together we can meet this challenge without sacrificing a single child's future.
And, by working together, we can reduce the state's work force by at least 1,500 positions. We can realize savings by contracting out services, by reforming civil services, and by giving state workers the same collective bargaining rights their counterparts in cities and counties have. And we'll continue the state government's Savings Incentive Program, which has provided $143 million in cold, hard cash for school construction since I took office.
Implementing Initiative 695 is this year's problem-but failing to address the needs of our children and their schools would be every year's problem. And we can't allow that to happen. We must set the course for the new century. And that course is a steady pace towards the best education system in the nation.
I know I can count on you, the members of the Seattle Rotary, to continue making Washington a better place to live, to work and to raise a family.
Thank you very much.