Governor’s Education Summit
July 30, 2002

Thank you for being here and devoting a day to evaluating the status of our progress in improving education in Kentucky.  The people in this room can change Kentucky.  You’ve done it before; you can do it again.  As I look out into this audience today, I’m reminded of the courageous efforts that have been put forth by the many governors, lawmakers, and ordinary citizens, to improve the educational product in the Commonwealth.  There’ve been many heroes in this education battle.  Each of us in this room know that it took, and continues to take, the heroic efforts of thousands of Kentuckians to pass, and then sustain HB 940, the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.  Some of these heroes are here with us today…some are still out there in the trenches fighting…and a few have passed away. 

It’s very fitting that we take time to reflect on how far we’ve come on this journey…a journey to provide all the children of Kentucky with an education that will allow them to achieve their dreams. 

It’s the appropriate time for reflection for several reasons.  First, time wise, we’re fifty percent of the way to the initial milestone we set for ourselves back in 1990…a destination that would, by the year 2014, have all children in the state learning at high levels based on a system which has standards, assessment, accountability, and local decision making.  Second, we lost two great KERA heroes this past year…. Governor Wallace Wilkinson and Justice Robert Stephens.  

It was Chief Justice Stephens and the 1989 Supreme Court who laid the education gauntlet down and forced all of us to make the critical education decisions that needed to be made.  I believe that their decision to rule Kentucky’s education system unconstitutional is one of the most important events in the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

As Justice Stephens said in his ruling, and I quote, “Each child, every child, in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education.  Equality is the key word here.  The children of the rich, the children who live in the poor districts and the children who live in the rich districts must be given the same opportunity and access to an adequate education.”

And I must emphasize another key word in the Supreme Court ruling, and that word is adequate.  I believe we’ve achieved relative economic equity.  We have not yet achieved adequacy.  The Supreme Court did its job in a truly visionary fashion.   But what may have been an even more courageous act was the action taken by Governor Wilkinson and the 1990 General Assembly.  They accepted Justice Stephens challenge when he wrote and again I quote, “We view this decision as an opportunity for the General Assembly to launch the Commonwealth into a new era of educational opportunity which will ensure a strong economic, cultural and political future.” 

The governor and the legislature could have taken the easiest path, the most politically expedient path, and applied a band-aid to a gaping wound.  But they chose instead to accept the challenge and enact what is described nationally as the boldest and most comprehensive effort of any state to improve its common schools and to increase learning for its youth.  As I’ve said repeatedly, and as history will no doubt record, it was our legislature’s finest hour.  Now questions must be asked of our current governor and legislature. Do we have the courage and the wisdom and the commitment to keep educational improvement on track?  Are we willing to do the things that have to be done for Kentucky’s children to realize their full potential?  What is the most important, maintaining our offices or providing our children with a higher quality of life? 

History could record that today’s challenges may be as daunting as those faced by our counter parts twelve years ago.  Will history be as complementary of us as we are of them?  That is the essence of this Summit; to get the people of Kentucky re-energized in the never-ending struggle to improve education. 

The 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act was no doubt the most revolutionary reform that any state has ever undertaken to improve the future of it’s children…and we’re experiencing tremendous results.  By every measure, our students are now performing above the national average in math, science, and language arts.  In fact, Kentucky was one of only three states to show significant progress in reading in 1998; and Kentucky was one of only three states to show significant progress in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress report that was released last year; and in this past January, Kentucky was one of only three states to receive an A in standards and accountability, according to Education Week, the nation’s most prestigious education publication!  When you’re in the top three, time after time after time, you’re doing something right!!! One of the “right” things we’ve done is dramatically increase funding for K-12 education, 88.4 percent since KERA was passed; and because of the financial commitment of the ‘98 session, Kentucky now has the most technologically advanced classrooms in the nation!  These high-tech classrooms have enabled us to have the nation’s first, largest and best virtual high school.  And all our students now have access to Kentucky’s best in the nation virtual library. 

And our efforts are receiving national recognition…just last November 5th, I accepted, on your behalf, the National Alliance of Business “State of the Year” award, an honor given by the nation’s businesses to recognize extraordinary commitment to education.  And in January, it was announced that Kentucky is one of fifteen states to receive a grant from the Wallace Reader’s Digest Foundation to focus on leadership for learning.  And in the past 9 years, Kentucky has had 35 teachers receive the coveted Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award!!!

In the first week of his administration, I was invited to meet with President Bush to discuss his Leave No Child Behind education program. Ninety percent of the President’s plan looks very much like KERA.  Kentucky has truly pioneered the way for the rest of the nation!  I applaud the Kentucky legislature, the Kentucky Court of Justice, educators, and community leaders for your service to this Commonwealth!   

Like many previous governors, when I first took office, my focus was on creating jobs. Not just any jobs, but quality jobs that could provide the citizens of this state with the quality of life they deserve…but I, like my predecessors, evolved from a jobs governor to an education governor because it became evident very early on, that in order to attract quality jobs, the education of our citizens had to be the focus.  It was my responsibility to continue to carry the torch of educational leadership that had been passed on to me by Governors Collins, Wilkinson and Jones.  I knew I had to not only defend what I had inherited, but build on that foundation. 

Education improvement doesn’t have a termination point…it’s an on-going process…a journey, not a destination.  I knew that we couldn’t stop at K – 12 education reform.   KERA was only the first step to ensuring that Kentucky is a leader in the global economy of the 21st century, an economy that’s based on the intellectual capacity of its citizens.  It’s the new capital of the new economy. It was my task to lead the next step in Kentucky’s educational journey, which was to address the state’s postsecondary education system, and begin linking it to economic development.  It was also my responsibility to ensure that the education system was seamless…so as students moved from high school to a postsecondary institution to a career, they had the skills and educational foundation they needed to take them to the next step up the educational ladder. 

But as I moved on to another level of education, I couldn’t turn my back on the continuing struggle in K-12 education.  My first job was to defend the visionary reforms I’d inherited.  One of the aspects of Kentucky education reform that national educators find so amazing is that our very bold and complex effort has been sustained for more than a decade.  This is highly unusual.  Compared to many other states, Kentucky has been able to debate, adjust and fine-tune the various components of complex reform without throwing out the core concepts or dismantling the critical foundation.  We’ve been able to maintain focus, even during times of extreme opposition and pressure like during the 1995 election, and the1996 and the 1998 legislative session.    KERA has required and will continue to require governors and others, like you, to be tenacious and steadfast when anti-change efforts are strong.  We had such a situation in 1998 when KIRIS, was under serious attack.  With support from community leaders… educators…and key lawmakers, we were able to design a new testing and assessment system called the CATS test, that kept the original principles behind KERA intact.

As Governor, I viewed my primary responsibility as protecting the commitments of the past but I realized that I also had the responsibility to build on KERAs foundation by focusing on postsecondary education.  The future of our nation and our state rests on the intellectual capital of our people.  And so, as we looked to develop the vision for Kentucky’s future, we asked the question; how could Kentucky develop the intellectual capital we’re going to have to have to provide our citizens with the quality of life they desire?

This was the vision that served as the basis for our landmark Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 and it’s this effort that is the single most important initiative of my administration. 

The 1997 Postsecondary Education Improvement Act has, as it’s long term vision, building and developing here in Kentucky the intellectual capital and the research capacity to discover the new ideas and the new processes that will be the backbone of our economy 20…40…and 100 years from now. 

The results of our postsecondary reform efforts have been very rewarding and speak for themselves.  We’ve experienced a 39% enrollment increase in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System..  Overall enrollment in our state’s postsecondary education institutions has increased 15%... And now, in only it’s third year, the Kentucky Virtual University has an enrollment of over 5,500. I think we can safely say that postsecondary education is available almost anyplace…and anytime in Kentucky.

But accessibility is only half of the equation in providing citizens with the education opportunities they need.  Education must also be affordable. So a critical part of our postsecondary reform efforts was the establishment of the KEES Scholarship program.  This program not only provides Kentucky students with the opportunity to earn scholarship dollars for college while they’re in high school, it also serves to encourage them to begin thinking and planning for a postsecondary education career during their Freshman year.  And the results show that our teens are taking advantage of this program.  This year, alone Kentucky students earned a total of $46 million dollars towards a college education.  This is a landmark year for this program because the 2002 graduating high school seniors are the first ones to earn scholarship dollars for all four years of high school.  And 523 earned the coveted Jeff Green Scholarship award for having a high school GPA of 4.0 with a minimum ACT score of 28! 

It is critical that students understand that in order to succeed in life they must understand that their education cannot terminate in the twelfth grade.  Learning is, after all, a lifelong experience, and our children need to understand that today’s knowledge-based economy requires, at a minimum, a K – 14 educational experience. 

During the 2000 legislative session we acknowledged that what we were actually dealing with was a lifelong learning issue…the fact that continuous education is necessary for a successful career in the modern world.  So we began to address two other critical pieces in the educational puzzle…early childhood education and adult education. 

Unfortunately, the neglect of the past is still with us. Despite our revolutionary efforts, a fourth of our citizens remain under-educated.  So we turned our attention to adult education.  In just 2 years, enrollment in our adult education programs in Kentucky has increased from about 51,000 to 63,000…and this year we’ll reach 75,000…and in 2004 we’ll be at 100,000. A record number of individuals took the GED during the past fiscal year, almost 15,000.  In fact, there was such an interest in the GED that we had a difficult time keeping up with the demand. 

In 2000 we also began to address the health and educational needs of our youngest citizens by using 25% of our tobacco settlement dollars for our KIDS NOW – Early Childhood Development program.  Education must start prior to entering school because research clearly tells us that the majority of a child’s mental development occurs before they enter Kindergarten.  In fact 90% of the architectural structure of the brain is developed by the age of three.

During my State of the Commonwealth address to begin my second term as Governor…I said I had four priorities…Education…Education…Education…Education.  That may sound a little redundant…but let me put it this way…One - early childhood education…two - elementary and secondary education…three - postsecondary education…and four adult education.  And that must remain the commitment of the Commonwealth and especially the next Administration. 

But our administration didn’t stop with just making education available and affordable… we knew that we couldn’t make everybody understand the need for an education by just passing a law…or by expanding our services.  We had to address the cultural issues driving our low literacy and college graduation rates.  Three years ago we initiated a statewide “Education Pays” public awareness campaign designed to establish a realization in the mind of every child…every parent…every grandparent and every businessperson, that education is the key to achieving their dreams…That education pays…not just economically but culturally, sociologically and in many other ways. 

We should be proud of the fact that, more than any of our 49 sister states, we developed a program of truly progressive and effective education improvement over the entire lifelong spectrum.  And to date; more than any other state, we’ve stayed the course, financially and structurally.

It’s now time for us to ask about the future of  “an adequate and equitable education program for every Kentuckian” that was ordered by our Supreme Court 13 years ago.  Financial Equity?  For all practical purpose we’re there.  But we need to be very vigilant that special interests don’t slowly chip away at the equity gains we’ve made.

Adequate?  No we’re not there yet.  We’re making progress.  Some would say we’re half way there scholastically as well as chronologically. If that be the case, then it was certainly the easier half.  Can we go the last half of the way with the resources we have?  Not if we judge our resources by what we’re having to face during the current biennium.  I charge this summit with an analysis of where we are and what it will take to get us where we said we wanted to go.

To reach our goal by 2014, we must challenge our leaders to live up to the commitment.  To remember that the commitments of 1990 have been adopted by the people of Kentucky in election after election since then.  It’s our current group of elected officials that have the responsibility to act as courageously as those of 1990.  And the commitment of 1990 was as much to adequacy as it was to equity.  I repeat one more time. Our charge today is to take stock of where we are and examine how we’re going  get to where we are committed to go.

This summit marks a milestone in our education reform efforts…but it’s only a milestone.  We’re on a very long journey…a journey, quite frankly, that’ll go on long after each of us has left this earth.  Everyone in this room has the responsibility to ensure that during our “education watch” we build on the foundation given us.  That we leave an even stronger education legacy to those who come after us.  

Today we stand at a particularly critical milestone because we’re in politically changing times.  In less than a year and a half a new administration will come to Frankfort.  And one of the questions each of us in this room needs to ask of all of our new lawmakers and potential governors…will you, during your watch, carry on the education torch passed to you by the past four Governors and the legislature?  Will you build on the progress we’ve made during the past 20 years…progress designed to overcome the 100 years of neglect this state endured while we ignored the education and the future of our citizens? 

We’ve made a good start…but it’s only a start.  You will hear from many of today’s participants that we are definitely out of the gate and we’re making good strong process.  However, you will learn that here at the midterm we still have big issues to address.  We must challenge all of our current and future leaders by asking…Do you share the vision of educational excellence so deliberately crafted and so carefully guarded?  Will you remain staunch to the premise of high educational achievement for all Kentucky children? The answer must be a resounding yes! 

We are still in the race in a big way, but so now are others…and for each step we make other states that were already ahead of us are also moving forward. 

And so the journey continues.  This journey is a particularly difficult one because it requires that we continue to endure and remain passionate about education.  We must not hesitate to be bold and visionary, to chart new paths and go where none have dared go.  Be pioneers, like our predecessors, Daniel Boone, Thomas Walker and Jenny Wiley.  Our children, our citizens and our state are deserving of nothing less than our most uncompromising best.

During today’s program…I challenge each of you to seek, think, and offer ideas, policies, and strategies that will ensure our reform efforts endure…that our lawmakers and our future governor’s share in our quest for quality education.

We must continue to remember Justice Stephens’s words in the 1989 Supreme Court decision…”Any system of common schools must be created and maintained with the premise that education is absolutely vital to the present and to the future of our Commonwealth.”

That is our charge.  Thank you for participating.