Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Conference on Access and Diversity
May 11, 2000
Thank you, Marc, for those thoughtful words.
I want to thank Bob Craves for the great work he's doing chairing the Higher Education Coordinating board. He's brought incredible energy and vision.
And I want to thank all of the people here today who do not turn a blind eye to the fact that too few minorities are graduating from our colleges and universities. This room is full of people who can look at inequity in the face, and do something about it.
It's a fact. The elimination of affirmative action has affected minority student access to colleges and universities.
As our economy soars, people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with affirmative action. They think it's unfair. The public wants diversity, but not at the expense of what they consider fair. There seems to be a sense out there that our regional prosperity somehow "proves" that the playing field is level. That we all face the same hurdles along the path of pursuing the American Dream and that there are no glass ceilings. And that simply isn't true. We have as much financial and social disparity as ever, and the digital divide will only compound the problem.
There are two ways to respond to the repeal of Affirmative Action in Washington, in California, in Texas and possibly in other states in the future. We could shrug our shoulders and say: "Okay -- that's that" or we can straighten our backs and find another way to ensure diversity in our colleges, our universities, and our workforce. Here in Washington, we chose the later, to continue the good fight.
Here in Washington, we believe that the success of some students doesn't have to hinge on the failure of others. That's why we threw out the bell-curve and totally re-aligned our education system -- we set tough new standards that we want every child to meet.
In the past, we've just lived with consequences. We just took it for granted that some kids pass, some kids fail. But we're not doing that anymore. If a child fails, that failure will follow him into adulthood. And we can't have that. So we're testing our kids in 3rd, 7th, and 10th grades to make sure that no child falls between the cracks. We know that every child can meet high standards and that it's our obligation, our duty, and our privilege to make sure that happens.
But we all know low test scores aren't the only thing keeping many minorities from pursuing higher education. It's our responsibility to break the barriers between K-12 and higher ed.
Often poorer parents have an inaccurate view of how much college costs. The sticker shock makes them retreat and they don't understand financial aid. And there are often familial issues of kids wanting to stay close to home and living in communities with no higher ed facilities. And it's scary to send your son or daughter to a place you've never been, especially when you hear stories of alcohol, sexual freedom and drugs.
So how do we break down the barriers?
Here in Washington, we were recently awarded a GEAR-UP Grant. That's federal money that we use to:
improve counseling services for parents and kids so they know all of their options,
tutor kids so they can meet standards,
provide real-life experiences on campuses for parents and kids so that college is not a scary place for them anymore, and
provide mentoring and counseling to these kids once they're at college to make sure they stay there.
Right now, we're reaching 1,200 kids a year with our GEAR-UP program. When proven effective and replicable in other communities, we hope to supplement federal dollars and take the program statewide to ensure greater diversity in Washington colleges and universities.
And we also started a Promise Scholarship Program. This is the thing I'm most proud of so far in my term as Governor. If a student graduates in the top 15% of her class, we'll give her a scholarship so she can go to college. The beauty of the Promise Scholarship is two-fold. One, it's geared towards working class families. Two, students from wealthy districts aren't competing against students from less-affluent areas. It's the top 15% of her high school class, not of students throughout Washington.
We all know it's getting harder and harder for kids - things change so fast now that we have technology. I was miserable in college. I had two huge strikes against me. I was Asian American. And I was poor. My classmates thought I was strange. Because I was too poor to use the clothes dryers at the Laundromat, I hung my clothes in my dorm room to dry. They wondered if I'd ever had fried chicken before, or if I only ate rice. In adult language, I can say, "My financial position and my ethnicity alienated me." But back then, when I was eighteen it was just tough.
I can't even imagine the added barrier today of competing with classmates who had computers in their homes and schools from the time they were toddlers and having been raised in a house without a computer. Or the barrier - like many students from low-income families - of attending schools with high staff turnover and little educational leadership. School staff make an enormous difference and too often kids attending poor schools get the short straw on effective staff.
The desire to succeed burns in the hearts of our young. Let's not hold them back. Instead, let's push them forward with high expectations for their life achievement. Our kids can do it. We know that. It will take extra effort, formidable perseverance, but their success is worth it. Here, in Washington, we plan to prove all our kids capable of rigorous learning. And by having all our kids achieve, we eliminate the need for more traditional affirmative action strategies.
Thank you very much.