Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Education Legislation Signing
March 18, 2004

Good morning. It’s an honor to be here at Highland Middle School.

Today is a landmark day for education reform in our state. The five education bills that we sign here today will further strengthen our education system. Many of these bills are a long time coming. But our efforts have paid off.

A quality education is a universal right. Our children deserve no less, and we can provide them nothing more important.

I’ve said it many times before but it bears repeating today. Education is the great equalizer. It offers opportunity and hope to all it touches. It makes real the American Dream: that anything is possible if we set our minds to it.

Quality education and lifelong learning demand a world-class education system. We’ve made great strides in raising academic achievement the past several years.

Our students now exceed the national average in many subjects, and lead the nation in numerous categories. But we have even higher standards. And we’re making great progress measured against those standards.

The bills we’re signing here today will take us to the next level in education reform. They will:
· Clarify and refine – for students, teachers and parents – our tough, new graduation requirements that take effect for the high school graduating class of 2008.
· Better target learning assistance money to struggling students and schools that need it most;
· Allow school districts to collect the full amount of levies authorized by voters;
· Authorize charter schools focused on helping underachieving students meet our state’s high academic standards; and
· Expand the state’s Alternative Route Certification Program for teachers.

I commend the Legislature for working in bi-partisan fashion to pass this legislation. These education bills were my top priority this session. Together, we succeeded.

Working together, we are improving education for the students here at Highland and for all students across our great state.

We are making sure that our children graduate with the skills they need to successfully compete in this global, high-tech 21st century economy.

WASL Changes

The first bill I will sign today refines and clarifies the Washington Assessment of Student Learning – the WASL.

House Bill 2195, which I requested, reduces the number of subjects to be tested and passed for high school graduation. These subjects will be reading, writing and mathematics starting in 2008. We’ll add science in 2010. The legislation eliminates the current WASL exam for listening as well as proposed WASL testing for social studies, arts, health and fitness.

Those subjects and skills are essential, too. Social studies, arts and health are critical aspects of children’s education. Students will still be required to take courses in these areas. But for high school graduation, we must focus on the basics.

The new law also allows for multiple retakes and the development of alternative assessments.

I first proposed these changes to the WASL nearly two years ago to a bit of controversy. I’m glad these changes have now been widely embraced. The refined WASL will reinforce our state’s high academic standards. It will also better prepare students to meet or exceed those standards. And teachers and parents will now have a roadmap of exactly what is expected of students, and when.

LAP Reform

The second bill I will sign into law today reforms and strengthens our state’s Learning Assistance Program – LAP.

Senate Bill 5877, which I requested, requires the use of best practices to support struggling students. It provides greater program accountability and stabilizes LAP funding to school districts that need it the most, and keep it there.

Levy Base Adjustments

The third bill I will sign today deals with school levies. Senate Bill 6211 authorizes the collection of the full amount of voter-approved school levies.

The districts’ maximum levy authority will be calculated as if the district received the full state funding originally assumed under Initiatives 732 and 728. While state funding for education has actually increased despite tough economic times, funding was less than schools assumed when levies were passed. And because levies cannot exceed a certain percentage of state dollars, less than expected state money means lower limits on levy collections. This bill rectifies that problem.

We must give school districts every tool possible to help their schools grow and improve.

Charter Schools

The fourth bill I will sign today pertains to charter schools. House Bill 2295 authorizes a limited number of charter schools within the public school system. The bill allows school districts to convert some existing schools to charters or to provide for the development of new schools.

The focus is on helping struggling students meet state standards. We must always be open to innovation within the public schools directed toward improving student performance and greater parental involvement. This legislation promotes the “outside-the-box” thinking that is sometimes needed to help struggling students meet our high academic standards. This legislation was strongly supported by numerous ethnic minority organizations.

Residency Teacher Certification

The last bill we’re signing today expands our successful Alternative Route Certification Program for teachers, which provides opportunities for individuals to get state teacher certification. Many people have relevant experiences in the private sector or in education but don’t have a four-year degree in education.

These individuals must complete a full summer session at a university in the state and then a full school-year mentorship in a participating school district.

Senate Bill 6245 allows individuals holding conditional teaching certificates or an emergency substitute certificates to participate in the alternative certification program so they may become fully state certificated teachers.

Finally, it is important that we’re signing these bills at a middle school. Middle school students across the state will be the first ones to experience our tough, new high school graduation requirements that take effect in 2008. That’s why I am proud to have Highland Middle School student body representatives stand behind me as we sign this legislation. We want these students – and all Washington students – to know that we stand with them.

We want the best for our kids. We want them all to succeed. But “wanting” isn’t enough. By signing these bills today, we are taking action to further improve education reform in our state. The action we take today will help give our kids the tomorrow they deserve.

Thank you. Now, it’s time for Washington to go to the head of the class. Let’s sign this legislation!

Access Washington