Gov Foster’s Commitment To Education Continues

By: - January 10, 2000 12:00 am

In his inaugural speech, Gov. Foster called for a continued commitment to education. “As we begin this new era, we must tackle the occurrence of the old riddle: how does a relatively impoverished state like Louisiana educate its children, train its workforce, invest in its infrastructure and do those things only government can do with limited resources? Over the coming days, I will ask our legislative leaders, educational leaders, business leaders, and others to join with me in answering this question and responding to this challenge.” he said.

The full text follows.

Members of the Clergy, Elected Officials, Consular Corps, Foreign Dignitaries, Honored Guests, My Fellow Louisianians… To Those Supporters who made this day possible, I say thank you. To others, let me say I will do my best to earn your confidence. Today I will simply promise you my best effort and hard work in a straightforward, honest fashion to make Louisiana the best state it can be.

As this new millennium and century commence, it has become far too customary for speeches to be made about the potential of our common future… the possibilities of this new era… and the probability that mankind will build a different and better world.

I will not do this. I am far too pragmatic.

My experience has taught me that progress is not determined by the passing of an hour, but, rather, progress IS MADE because people of goodwill, discipline, and commitment apply themselves to doing the job at hand to the best of their abilities… brick by brick… day by day.

I will not engage in a fanciful flight about our future, because our future will be measured by the progress we make against the historic enemies of human achievement: ignorance… poverty… hatred… and inequality.

These enemies do not magically disappear at the beginning of a new century or, even a new millennium. They do not disappear because of flowery words in a well-crafted speech. They persist.

  • They drain our common vitality.
  • They destroy our compassion.
  • They divide our people.
  • They demand our courage.

For too long, our state’s future has lost to these common enemies.

Today, while recognizing the beginning of a new era, let us commit ourselves, our energies and our state to the long endeavor of freeing our people from these enemies of our progress.

Let us commit ourselves to turn ignorance into enlightenment… poverty into wealth… hatred into compassion… and inequality into equal opportunity.

If we are to win this freedom, however, we, as a people, face a fundamental challenge: Do we allow the cynicism created in the last century to defeat us in this new century, or do we take the bold steps that will finally and fundamentally change Louisiana?

This is not an easy question for people who have witnessed the worst of political corruption… experienced a woeful educational system… seen resources squandered… economic inequality flourish… and racial prejudice persist.

While the question is not easy, it must be asked and it must be answered by each of you if we are to share in a common progress and a common prosperity.

Over the last four years, we have demonstrated that our state can work… state government does not have to be corrupt… our educational system can be improved… resources can be marshaled… inequality and prejudice will retreat in the face of shared opportunity.

From increasing the pay of our teachers three times… to a new commitment to reading… to Mrs. Alice’s and thousands of volunteers’ successful efforts to clean up the litter in our state over the last four years… we have chipped away at this cynicism. In fact, you should know that a new Litter Task Force is being organized to raise private funds and recruit volunteers to raise this cause to a higher level.

As an administration, we will be deeply involved in preserving and improving our environment. We have in four years made large steps in coastal protection and restoration, cleaner highways and cities. Louisiana now has more game and more fish than ever before to pass on to future generations. My spare time revolves around the outdoors, therefore know that Louisiana will have EVEN MORE fish in the water, birds in the sky, game in the woods and cleaner rivers and streams when we leave in four years.

We must become a model for the nation in investment in the arts and humanities, in music and theater, in museums and libraries, in parks and recreational opportunities. We are committed to having a richness and quality of life second to none in this nation.

Knowing that government often causes problems, not solves them, we still must do more.

If we are to fundamentally change Louisiana, we must defeat poverty. A quarter of our people… a third of our children… living in poverty is morally unacceptable and practically unsupportable.

The government programs of the 1960’s aimed at defeating poverty only served to create more poverty… these programs did not ask people to help themselves, rather, these programs asked people to rely on government.

This… we will not do.

We destroy poverty by destroying ignorance. We destroy ignorance by educating our people.

Our commitment to education remains strong. There will be no retreat and no surrender to ignorance… no retreat, no surrender on education.

Our commitment to providing our people with the job skills for the twenty-first century remains firm. Our people will be ready for their future. About this, there can be no compromise.

Educating and training our people are far less expensive than the alternatives.

Paying a teacher is cheaper than paying for a prisoner. Rest assured, a child that has no education will likely end up being an adult housed in Angola and paid for by the taxpayers of Louisiana.

Paying for a classroom computer is far cheaper than paying for a prison cell.

Retraining a worker is better than putting someone on welfare.

If we do not start the frustratingly slow fight to defeat poverty in our state, the cost of poverty will overtake us.

  • It will destroy our middle class.
  • It will burden our criminal justice system.
  • It will result in the loss of life and the destruction of property.
  • It will always end up invading our taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

While the fight will be slow, the irony is that Louisiana does not have much time. The world is moving one hundred times faster than it did in 1950, 1971, or, even, 1991…

The jobs that once helped to employ our unskilled or semiskilled workers are no longer available. It takes more training and a greater education for people to make marginal improvements in their lives.

Today, the most inexperienced employees have to run computers.

The Internet’s rise in commerce requires consumers to have advanced technological skills simply to get the best buy.

Line workers at our chemical plants are more technologically advanced than an entire generation before them.

We do not have much time, thus we must invest in that which is about saving time… technology. Again, this means education.

Over the past four years, we put almost nine hundred million new dollars into our educational system, from K-12 to higher education.

Today, children go to college tuition free.

Now, we have a community and technical college system.

Shortly, we will have the best K-12 accountability system in our nation.

We have also seen an additional two hundred million dollars for new technology initiatives, computers in libraries, and the UNO Naval Information Center housing 1,000 new employees of the Navy’s Information Technology Center… a center that will establish New Orleans as a prime location for high-tech industries.

Presently, the Monroe economy ranks sixth nationally in the concentration of telecommunications service sectors and Shreveport is becoming a leader in the biomedical field. The Lafayette region has some of the country’s fastest growth in high-tech industries and Baton Rouge’s share of the telecommunications retail market is expanding rapidly.

In fact, Louisiana is ranked 34th in our nation in high technology employment.

While we appreciate our chemical industry, the oil and gas industry, and those who feed our families in the agriculture sector, if we are to defeat poverty, build wealth, and create opportunity, it must come in other areas like high technology.

Over the next four years, we will leave no opportunity unexplored… no possibility untapped… and no event unattended in our effort to move our state into those endeavors that add value to products, thus creating new jobs and wealth for our people.

In this international economy, a nation like Singapore… a nation with few or none of the traditional natural resources that we have… creates a thriving economy because it adds value to products.

Louisiana must also learn to do this.

Education… skills… technology allow a state to do this.

Ignorance… lack of skills… and the failure to embrace the change of technology does not.

We do not have much time. If we, as a people, do not seize this moment, I am afraid Louisiana will forever be a state that simply did not make it.

We simply cannot allow this to happen. Together, we will not let this happen.

As a state, we face a monumental challenge. Our economy has been slowed because of market changes in the world economy.

Ask any farmer in our state. They can tell you about the enormous drop in farm income over the last several years.

While oil prices have come back recently, employment in this industry has not rebounded, because there is a deep concern about the strength of the international market.

All of this, and more, has resulted in our state having to face a budgetary challenge.

As we begin this new era, we must tackle the occurrence of the old riddle: how does a relatively impoverished state like Louisiana educate its children, train its workforce, invest in its infrastructure and do those things only government can do with limited resources?

Over the coming days, I will ask our legislative leaders, educational leaders, business leaders, and others to join with me in answering this question and responding to this challenge.

It is my intention also, to empower the people of this state through referendum, to participate with their legislative representatives in addressing certain problems of substance that affect us all.

We will challenge every assumption, every program, and every expenditure, but we will not… cannot… challenge the need to educate and train our children and people.

We will not… cannot… challenge the need and the responsibility to continue to raise our teacher and faculty salaries… this year.

This challenge will be answered with a unity of voices, because we cannot allow it to derail our efforts to defeat the underlying enemy of our common future… poverty and the lack of opportunity.

The fight against these common enemies will be slow. In four years, there is likely to be no study that demonstrates that Louisiana has, overnight, made startling improvements. Poverty has resulted from a century of government mistakes, human prejudices, and private sector shortcomings.

To expect a century of failure to be washed away in a four year term is totally unrealistic. However, we start this journey… here… today.

In years to come, perhaps, our children’s children will look back on this moment as the time that Louisiana squarely faced its future.

If we leave no other legacy for a new century, this would be our greatest.

Unfortunately, none of us know what our future brings.

At my age, I have only today… this time… this moment.

As a people, we have only each other. Just as a family, each of us is dependent on the other. We depend on the other’s integrity, personal responsibility, and commitment to a common goal.

If we seek the best for everyone, we must demand the best of ourselves.

In this new time, racism cannot be tolerated… inequality of opportunity cannot be condoned… barriers to advancement cannot be accepted… walls to realizing full potential must be torn to the ground just as the Berlin Wall was torn down…We cannot afford to leave a single citizen behind.

While I realize my days are numbered on God’s good earth, I recognize that the potential for doing what it right is unlimited.

I intend to use my days to fulfill this potential. I will depend upon each of you to help me.

God Bless Each of You…

God Bless Louisiana… and….God Bless America.

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