Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Junior Leagues of Washington State—Capitol Days 2004
February 9, 2004

Thank you, Tanya Hammer and Liz Davis. Good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here, and to welcome you to Olympia. For over a century, the League has been addressing community and social issues across America. And nowhere is the League a more vital force than here in Washington state.

Today I’d like to talk about child care, education, and our future. I believe we have a unique opportunity this year, if we have the wisdom and vision to pursue it.

The opportunity begins with child care and early learning.

Many families across our state depend on out-of-home care. It’s the only way they can keep their jobs or pursue careers. Child care is a significant factor in fueling our workforce.

It is critically important that safe, affordable child care is available to these families. But child care must also go further than that. We can’t just babysit or warehouse kids. True “child care” must be more meaningful.

That’s why I formed the Commission on Early Learning back in 1998. Appointing the Commission was partly a response to the rising need for child care. But there was an even more important issue. Research about babies and young children had shown us that intense learning begins when a baby is born. It continues through the first three years. This period of early learning is the best opportunity to help children develop their minds.

One of the Commission’s recommendations to me was to “change the assumption that education begins in kindergarten.” I believe we have changed that assumption.

But we still have work to do. Too often, the early learning opportunity is missed. Thousands of our kids still start kindergarten without the basic skills to succeed in school. That means they start out behind. And many will never catch up to their peers. More early education programs—and improvements to those programs—would give children the chance they need and deserve.

Last week I announced that we are working with early learning experts to develop a set of benchmarks and expectations to assist families, child care providers, pre-school teachers and kindergarten teachers to help kids be prepared for school. And to help schools be prepared for kids. I’ve requested funding in my 2004 supplemental budget for the publication, distribution, and implementation of these benchmarks. This is a good start. But we have an opportunity to do more.

Improving early learning opportunities is just one of our goals in education reform. For several years, we’ve made good progress in pursuing these goals.

We’ve made great strides in raising K-12 academic achievement. Our students now exceed the national average in many subjects, and lead the nation in numerous categories.

More importantly, we’ve made great progress as measured against even our own higher state standards.

We are proud of this progress. This session I’ve proposed further improvements in WASL and the Learning Assistance Program. But we have an opportunity to do more.

More people than ever before are seeking a college education. But there aren’t enough professors and classrooms at our universities to meet that demand.

Meanwhile, employers are looking for more graduates in high-demand fields like nursing, computer sciences and engineering. But our colleges and universities can’t even meet half the need. If our state can’t provide the necessary training and education opportunities for these jobs, businesses will hire people from outside our state.

What do we tell those who are waiting for college opportunities? We can’t just say “be patient and wait a few years until the state invests more in education.”

We must make higher education more available. The dreams of hardworking students and others across our state are worth honoring. The doors of opportunity must be kept open. I’ve proposed funding for 5200 additional full-time students in my Supplemental Budget. But we have an opportunity to do more.

Those who are qualified to attend our colleges and universities should not be barred by impossibly high costs. Promise Scholarships and other financial aid programs can make the difference between a dream fulfilled and an impossible dream.

Our future depends on a high-quality education system at all levels. Pre-school, K-12 and Higher Ed. Every child from every background deserves a chance to start life right through quality early learning. A chance to do well in school. And a chance for a college education and a good paying job. Our children will need the best education possible to succeed in the global, high-tech, 21st century economy that awaits them after graduation.

We have an opportunity to do more, but only if we establish an education funding source that’s permanent, dedicated and stable.

That’s why last week I shared details of the proposed Washington Education Trust Fund. The Trust Fund would provide new, dedicated and stable funding for education, from early learning through higher education.

More than a year ago, I started working with the League of Education Voters on a proposal for enhanced education. They spent months meeting with groups and individuals across the state. The result was the proposal for the Washington Education Trust Fund.

The League made an interesting discovery in the process. They discovered that people in our state are willing to invest in additional funding for education—as long as the money is guaranteed to be spent on education. The Washington Education Trust Fund gives us that guarantee, as well as strong accountability features.

This new funding would come from a voter-approved one-cent-per-dollar state sales tax increase. That one-penny-per-dollar would generate $1 billion annually. This would be in addition to existing state funding for education.

Last year we needed to live within our means without a tax increase. This year my budget again lets us live within our means without a tax increase. We are continuing to provide basic services without new taxes.

But parents want their children to have more than basic education. I know I want more than a basic education for Emily and Dylan. Like all parents, I want my kids to get the best education possible. And the Washington Education Trust Fund will give Washington voters an opportunity to do something about the education system we want for our children.

I mentioned at the outset that we have a unique opportunity this year. The opportunity to substantially improve our education system —from early learning to higher education. The opportunity to achieve a world-class education system. But only if we take bold, visionary action now. Tight budgets in the next few years means no status quo.

I want to thank the Junior Leagues of Washington. Thank you for your dedication to our children, and our communities. Keep up the good work, and together let’s make our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

Thank you.

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