Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington School Counselor Association Conference
March 3, 2000
Thank you, Dr. Bernal C. Backa, for that kind introduction and thank you all for inviting me here today to the Washington School Counselor Association's Conference! That Native American Blessing was very moving…thank you.
It's been an unsettling week for all of us. I can't help but think that if little boy in Michigan would have had a chance to talk to a counselor…that little girl, Kayla Renee Rolland, would probably still be alive.
We are doing everything we can to prevent violence in our schools. Last year we got the Legislature to approve 12 million dollars in funding for safer schools, so we can create alternative schools for kids who are expelled from regular classrooms, and increase the school security staff, and give schools money for prevention and intervention and school safety planning. And this year, I'm asking the Legislature to approve 5.2 million more to provide full funding for school security.
But I also know how vital our school counselors are in preventing school violence…and I'm here to thank you, today, for everything you do for our kids.
Even though I'm not exactly thrilled to be getting older, I still think: I wouldn't go back to being a kid for anything in the world. Because those are some hard years! Especially now. As the pace of our daily lives gets faster and faster and our children are forced to grow up and mature faster and faster, their growing pains must be simply stupendous.
When I used to come home from school, there were three channels to choose from. Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie & Harriet, and Mickey Mouse Club. Our kids today have hundreds of channels to pick from and hundreds of thousands of Internet sites to access…
Even something as simple as a milk carton! A kid drinks a half-pint of Darigold milk, and those cartons still have the little "puzzlers" on the back…where you have to match "kittens" to "litters," and "birds" to "flocks," or you are challenged to draw a shape without lifting your pencil from the page, or retracing a single line. But now, to get the answer, instead of just flipping the carton over, you have to go to www.eCarton.com!!!!
So as our world gets more and more complex, the role you counselors play in the lives of our children becomes more and more important.
You are the ones helping them make their decisions about the future…encouraging them to try "job shadowing," apply for Promise Scholarships and colleges, or helping them decide between joining the military or becoming AmeriCorps volunteers. You are the ones teaching our children what to do with the knowledge they are getting from their teachers…and the streets.
But you do so much more than just prepare our kids for their futures. You also help them to get through their day-to-day trials. A lot of people on my staff are involved in the "lunch buddy" program, where counselors pick students who seem to need some adult mentoring, and members of my staff go and have lunch with these kids once a week.
And my staff members are always talking about how much the school counselors know about these kids…and how focused the counselors are on what these kids need. So I thank each and every one of you for each and every time you've sat down with a child and helped them through their day.
By the way, congratulations on the national recognition on your K through 14 program! We now are the only state in the country that has a seamless, K through 14 counseling! And I commend your inclusion of multicultural competence.
I want to talk to you a little bit today about what I'm trying to achieve in Olympia during this session, to improve the environment in our schools.
Counselors, of all people, know the value of one-on-one attention. If our kids had more individual attention, any emotional or behavioral variance would be more readily ascertainable to the teachers and counselors.
We are also learning the benefits of one-on-one attention in our Washington Reading Corp. Reading scores in schools with Reading Corps Programs, where students get one-on-one tutoring in reading…those scores are going up at almost twice the rate of schools without Reading Corps Programs.
So this session, I'm asking the legislature to approve my Learning Improvement Tax Credit Program.
If our legislators say yes to this plan, local communities will keep more of the money that they now send to Olympia. Instead of sending that money to Olympia, they'll invest in their schools to make sure our kids get more individual attention. And the local schools can do this in the way that makes the most sense for that community.
The districts may decide to use this money to reduce class sizes. Or to expand their facilities to accommodate smaller class sizes in the future. Or they may decide to create before and after school programs, or summer school programs or even a longer school year.
Whatever it takes to get our kids enthused about learning…to get our kids achieving academic excellence.
Some say we can't afford to invest in more individual attention for our kids right now. I ask…how can we afford not to?
Especially when the money to fund these improvements would just go sit in the state reserve otherwise.
We've gone for too long being the state with one of the highest per capita incomes in our nation, and the third-worst class sizes.
The Learning Improvement Tax Credit Program honors the I-601 state-spending limit. And it won't cost the taxpayers an extra cent. It simply allows communities to keep a portion of the state property tax to make sure our kids get the individual attention they need.
We've approved similar plans so that communities can build convention centers and stadiums. If we can do this to build a ballpark, we can certainly do this to build a future for our kids.
I know increased individual attention-smaller class sizes, after school and summer programs, a longer school year-I know this isn't "the whole answer." It's not the do all, end all. But it's a critical step on our journey to create the best education system we can for our children.
An education system is a multifaceted diamond, and each face of that diamond…from individual attention to the teaching profession, to school counselors, to community and corporate involvement, to testing our children and our teachers…all of these faces will shine together in the brightness that is our children's future. But The Learning Improvement Tax Credit Program…the increased individual attention for our children…will help us in all areas as we work towards heading off failure and rewarding success.
We're also proposing a bill that permits us to test new teachers to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to be effective in the classroom. Washington is one of only five states that don't test teachers, and we need to change that. We're testing our children to make sure they are meeting the standards, and now we must also test our teachers! If we want to make sure our kids are getting a top-notch education, we have to make sure they have top-notch educators.
We're proposing another bill to make our Promise Scholarship Program permanent, so that financial barriers stop NO child who academically earns the right to go to college. The Promise Scholarship Program allows students in the top 15% of their graduating class to go to college. These scholarships are for middle-income families…families that make too much money for their kids to qualify for financial aid, but not enough money to fund college…like a 4-member family bringing in around 70,000 a year.
In the first year of this program, we were able to hand out about 2,300 scholarships, and this year, we will be able to send an additional 3,600 deserving students to college. But if this bill doesn't pass, we have no assurance that we'll be able to help the graduating class of 2001, 2, 3 and 4. We want to make a permanent commitment to high-achieving students from low- and middle-income families!
With your support, all three of these bills will pass…and we'll be able to start testing our new teachers, offering our students more individual attention, and sending our brightest middle-income students to college.
And then we are going to keep going. We will get decent wages for people working in our schools. And we will maintain high standards for our children, and commit to making their tests flexible. And we will have accountability in our schools…intervention and rewards for students and for people working in our schools. And we will have all of our students meeting our 2nd grade and 4th grade and 10th grade standards. We will have all of this, people, because we have committed to it. But as they say….nobody ever tripped over a mountain. We have to climb step by step. We all know how much can be accomplished, one step at a time…just think about the students you've helped, one at a time.
You know, a wise person once said, "A hundred years from now, it won't matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or what kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."
You-all of you-are important in the lives of our children. So thank you. Thank you very much.