Good afternoon. I am thrilled, delighted, and deeply honored to be speaking here today to our state legislature in person and, on radio and television, to citizens of the great state of _______. As your duly elected governor, I want to promise that my team and I will spend every waking hour working on your behalf.
On the mirror in our bathroom is a small piece of paper on which appears theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.” I read it every morning. I’m sure you know it well.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
This morning I am asking all of you to take those sentiments seriously. Let’s resolve to change what we can–what we must–change, to ensure a bright future for our state and our citizens.
For me, the answer begins with the education of our young. That’s not all we need to work on, but if we don’t get that right, not much else matters.
Let’s remind ourselves that public education serves an important public purpose. Yes, of course there is an undeniable private benefit to getting education: children who finish high school and college will earn significantly more over their lifetimes than high school dropouts. Parents know that, which is why they seek out communities reputed to have ‘the best schools.’
However, in addition to the individual’s private gain, education provides significant public benefits. Investing in one child’s education helps all of us.
Think about it: Educated citizens have better jobs, pay more taxes, are more likely to vote, get involved in civic life, and work cooperatively with their neighbors. Educated citizens are less likely to be on welfare, live in homeless shelters, or require public benefits.
It’s a win-win when people are educated. That’s why we–government–cannot stand by and leave it to parents to see their children get educated. We need to enable, and we need to provide. And we need to pay the bills!
Let me remind you that, until fairly recently, America understood that. The GI Bill paid for the college education of millions of returning World War II veterans, creating the middle class and the greatest economic boom in history. In the mid-1960’s generous Pell Grants opened the door to college opportunity for millions of low income young people, creating another economic surge.
But during the Reagan years government walked away from a public commitment to education. Pell Grants were cut. States cut their commitments to their public colleges and universities. Government began making students borrow for college, rather than using public dollars to help them. Basically, we swapped grants for loans, and now student debt is over $1.5 trillion!
There have been other harmful changes. For the past 20 or more years, those controlling public education have emphasized test scores to the detriment of just about everything else. Adding to those bad policies, two major economic downturns did serious damage to school budgets, harm that most of our communities have not yet recovered from. School spending here in _______ is down from 2008, just as it is in 31 other states. And because too much money is being spent on testing and too much time on test-preparation, our young people are not enjoying art, music, drama, physical education, field trips, and other extra curricular activities–all the good stuff that (at least for me) made school enjoyable.
Schools need less testing and more money. Making that happen will require the courage cited in the ‘Serenity Prayer,’ because we also must change how we pay for schools here in _______. Back in 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled that education is not a federal constitutional right; it’s the job of individual states to educate its citizens. As in most states, here in ______ we have passed down the job to cities and towns and let them figure out how to pay for it.
Which they do with property taxes.
The result here in _______ (and just about everywhere else) is huge inequities, with some property-rich towns spending more than $20,000 per student, others, the ones that aren’t blessed with mansions, spending less than $10,000 per child. Some of our schools have ‘Maker Spaces,’ free laptops for all students, even their own climbing walls! Some of our middle schools are still using textbooks printed before Man landed on the Moon!
Do we have the courage to change that system? Can we increase state spending (Remember, education is the state’s responsibility!) so that every city and town is guaranteed an adequate level of spending. Enough money to provide art, music, drama, sports, physical education, science and more?
But providing more money is not a ‘magic bullet.’ In fact, there is no such thing as a ‘magic bullet,’ not in the world of politics and government. Change requires dedication, planning, and hard work. It won’t be enough to cut back on testing. Just adding art and music won’t get the job done either.
We need to unleash our educators. Let them teach….but with a caveat: they have to treat each child as an individual. Just ask, “How is this child smart?” Not “How smart is this kid?” Stop sorting children into pools of ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’ because we cannot afford that.
If this sounds like a sea change for schools, think of it as Education’s version of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others…..”
During my campaign for Governor, I met literally thousands of idealistic young people, men and women who want to improve the world around them. They seem to have absorbed the words of JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
I believe those young people are also saying “We are not asking what our state can do for us. We want to know what we can do for ______.”
We can build on their energy and intelligence; let’s use it to make our state stronger, economically and in every other way.
So I say, “Let’s make a deal.” Let’s tell our young people that we’ll pay for two years of post-secondary training or college if they commit to working to improve our state.
Here’s the deal: two free years of college or technical training at in-state institutions for students who agree to work in our state for three years in paying ‘community service’ jobs. They could teach in lower income communities, work for the park service, take positions in homes for the elderly or VA hospitals, or some other jobs that meet the state’s requirement.
Of course, some may choose to skip community service. Naturally, they will be required to repay the state for their two years of post-secondary education.
But let’s focus on those who complete the bargain. They will be making our state a better place for all. That’s their gift to us.
But they also will benefit, because their gift of community service will make it more likely that they will want to stay here in ______. They will want to build their futures right here.
These are investments that will make our state stronger and more attractive, while also giving our young people the skills and certification they need to improve their own lives.
Investing in the public purpose of public education makes economic sense. If we do it right, we will get a damn good ROI, return on investment. Companies everywhere are looking to locate in states and communities with strong schools, where their employees’ children will receive a good education. They will relocate here, making us stronger.
Most children grow up looking for reasons not to leave the town and state where they have grown up, because it’s what they know and love. Let’s give them plenty of reasons to stay, beginning with strong schools that will attract businesses, which will provide the good jobs that will keep our young from moving out.
You legislators will get a personal–but perfectly legal–benefit. You will get to be around your grandchildren as they grow up. What could be better than that!!
Thank you. May God bless you, our country, and the great state of _________.