Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Mercer Island Rotary Club
August 1, 2000
Thank you Bob Kaercher, and thanks to your fellow Mercer Island Rotarians for inviting me to be here today.
I have to say I am especially pleased to be speaking to men and women of Mercer Island. I'd like to talk about two very important issues, education and transportation. And what better place can there be to talk about education than here on Mercer Island.
The fact is, I've been inspired by Mercer Island's commitment to education for a long time. And I've imagined what it might be like if everybody felt the way you do about educating your children.
You have one of the finest public education systems in the entire community. Your sons and daughters consistently score in the top 2 percent in state assessments. Your high school graduation rate is nearly 100 percent.
And there is a reason for that. It is because the people of Mercer Island truly care about educating their children. You care enough to help provide the needed funds to assure good schools, good teachers and equipment. Your Mercer Island School Foundation, the private, non-profit corporation dedicated to raising funds to enhance your curriculum, could serve as a model for every community.
Far more important than money, though, is that you take a deep and sustaining interest in your schools. And your commitment says loud and clear something I'm constantly trying to get across to people all across the state. And that is that improving our schools is not about instant gratification. It is about a lot of hard work over a long period of time.
You obviously know this. Mercer Islanders hold regular community forums and meetings to discuss school curriculum issues to help schools make better decisions. And 75 percent of your teachers actively participate on curriculum teams to set learning targets and strengthen curriculum, instruction and student test results.
I'm as proud as you are of Mercer Island's school system and the example it sets for the rest of the state. But all of us, you, your children and your grandkids included, must have excellent schools not just on Mercer Island but throughout Washington State. As a matter of geography, you live on an island. But when it comes to education, there is no such thing as an island in our state.
We're all in this together, whether we like it or not. Our social and economic systems depend on excellent schools throughout the state in order for all of us to thrive.
Because when your children leave this island for our cities, universities, and world of work, their quality of life will depend not only on their education, but also on the educations of their co-workers and neighbors. From the day I took office, not a day goes by that I don't think about how to improve the quality of education in every school district, from Forks to Zillah to Walla Walla to the Palouse. And I want you to assure you that we are staying the course on education reform. It has, and will continue to be, my top priority.
Our children are now taking standardized tests, and their test scores are rising.
We've got 12,000 volunteers flocking into our schools to help struggling readers develop sound reading skills. And where you find those volunteers, you also find reading scores going up.
We're lowering class sizes across the state. If a child is excelling, we can reward her. If he needs extra help, we can get it to him.
We're sending even more of our brightest high school students to college on Promise Scholarships.
This past session, the Legislature finally said yes to my proposal for teacher testing. College students will need to pass a competency test before they even begin teacher training programs. Teachers must pass a test demonstrating their mastery before entering the classroom as certified teachers.
A few weeks ago, I announced board members to our brand new Professional Educator Standards Board. This board will develop and administer the new teacher test. This board will also advise the state board of education, the superintendent of public instruction, the Legislature and myself on the full range of issues affecting teacher quality and certification, especially alternative certification.
We will continue to move toward the best education system in the nation. We won't stop until every child has every opportunity to become the best they can be.
Along with improving education, I have at the top of my list our absolute mandate to develop a long-term and lasting consensus on how to meet our state's transportation needs. We cannot afford any more fits and starts when it comes to building and maintaining our roads and bridges, and our critical systems of mass transportation.
As you know, we've brought together some of the brightest minds in the state on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation. Over the past two years, they have been assessing our transportation system and developing options that will lead to recommendations in the areas of governance, efficiencies, performance measures and benchmarks, investment priorities and new funding to pay for improvements.
The Commission's recommendations are due in December of this year, and I intend to act quickly on them. As the Blue Ribbon Commission has asserted, I believe, "for the good of Washington, we must take action."
There are key principles that should guide our transportation decision-making, and I'd like to touch on them briefly.
We must identify and implement long term solutions. I believe the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation is our best hope in years -- maybe decades -- to secure the long-term solutions we seek. No more quick fixes, or silver bullet solutions. We need a long-term consensus on meeting our state's transportation challenges.
As we move to the final stage, from options to recommendations, public input is crucial. I urge every one of you to read the Blue Ribbon Commission's list of options and give them your feed-back.
The solution package must include streamlining and reforming the transportation system, finding efficiencies and increasing revenues into the system. I support establishing performance measures for transportation. The idea is to squeeze additional capacity out of the existing system through efficiencies, reform, and smart technologies. The idea is to address transportation funding inequity and regional empowerment and to tie new revenues to new projects.
Solutions for Puget Sound's major corridors must be comprehensive including both transit and road elements. We have been very strong proponents of the state's multi-modal transportation system: highways, transit, ferries, freight mobility and passenger rail.
In transportation, there are no one-mode-fits-all solutions. We meet our transportation needs best by providing an integrated, multi-modal system that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here's a case in point. We often overlook the fact that transit is an effective means of mitigating highway traffic congestion. But, according to the Washington Transportation Alliance, if all Puget Sound area transit riders got back in their own cars, the resulting bumper-to-bumper traffic jam would stretch from Seattle to Montana (that's over 325 miles) and that's for every morning and evening commute!
Success in transportation will only occur in Olympia in 2001 if there is a bi-partisan approach to the issue. That is why, with the Legislature, we established the Blue Ribbon Commission. With this bi-partisan spirit, we will quickly and aggressively act on the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations. For the good of Washington, we must act.
State and local governments, business leaders, educators - all of us - must meet the challenges of the future. But whatever our challenges, let's not forget that this is a great time in our state's history to be taking them on.
Things have never been better in our great state. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in 33 years. There are 250,000 net new jobs in Washington State. We've returned almost a billion tax dollars to businesses so they can reinvest, grow and create the jobs that provide our families with a good future.
And Business Week magazine is calling Washington one of the most imaginative states, because of the way we reformed welfare. I'm proud of that. We got 80,000 families off of welfare and into career-track jobs. At the same time, we have cut welfare costs by $250 million a year.
We have improved school safety, care for the elderly and housing for farm workers. We revived a dying health insurance market and passed a Patients' Bill of Rights so medical decisions can be made by doctors and patients, not number-crunchers.
I've worked hard to streamline government. Washington is winning national awards for our on-line governing. We've eliminated more than 1,300 pages from the bureaucratic process and moved $143 million out of government process and into school construction.
I've worked hard to build partnerships with the business community, to make sure state government is helping businesses thrive. Because our businesses are the backbone of our society. When our businesses thrive, our communities thrive and when our communities thrive, our families thrive.
A strong economy builds strong families. Quality of life begins with a good job that delivers a paycheck that people can be proud of. A paycheck that will help buy a home, a car, braces, flowers, a vacation, the things that make our lives more livable. A strong economy means more money for schools, parks and police in our local communities. A strong economy means a brighter future for all of us.
And I want to thank you -- every business person here today -- for the jobs you provide for our citizens, for the quality of life you allow our citizens and for the support you've offered me and my administration over the years.
Thank you. Thank you very much.