Florida State of the State Address 2004
By Stateline Staff
TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Mar. 3 - The following is text of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) 2004 state of the state address:
Thank you all. Thank you very much. Thank you Mr. President. It is a joy to be here. Thank you Speaker Byrd for arranging such a rousing prelude to what may not be a rousing speech. The story of the life of the governor is he typically ends up speaking last after people do amazing things and I'm always left having to meet expectations. So Carey, I appreciate you being back, but I'm not so appreciative of the prelude to the remarks.
President King, Speaker Byrd, members of the Legislature, honored guests, and my fellow Floridians, good morning -- uh, good afternoon.
I am honored to be joined by my partner in life, Columba. President King, you're absolutely right, she is a great first lady and she is a great wife and I'm so proud of her and I love her very much.
In addition, I am fortunate to have as my partner in service, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, who has done such a fine job for Florida over the last year. Thank you lieutenant governor.
In 2003, I had the pleasure and honor of welcoming 14 new senators and 30 new representatives to this chamber for the first time. This year, we are all veterans of the legislative process; having debated, deliberated, and negotiated critical issues for the good of the people we serve during the regular session, through the summer, and well into late autumn.
The faces in this room are now familiar. Very familiar. Very, very familiar. But seriously, I thank you for your dedication, and your tireless work for the people of Florida.
Today, as we have done, we welcome one of our own back from the battlefield. Representative Carey Baker. He returned home from serving his country just four weeks ago and is here today to continue his service to the people of Florida. We are extremely proud to welcome him back to this chamber and are grateful for his safe return. Carey we're proud of you. I know his wife and family are grateful to have him back as well.
Last month we welcomed home almost 2,000 soldiers of the Florida National Guard from the war on terror. As we speak, another 1,000 Florida men and women are making their way to foreign shores to continue the effort.
Some, like Florida Army National Guard Sgt. Roy Wood, won't make it home. In 2003, Sgt. Wood walked away from his job as an emergency room surgeon at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers to serve with his unit in Afghanistan.
He felt so strongly about the mission and the soldiers with whom he served that he volunteered to go, even though he had to give up his major's rank and serve as a sergeant to do it. He served proudly and courageously, saving the lives of both soldiers and civilians.
He was the first Florida National Guardsman to give his life serving in Afghanistan. To his wife, Hana, who is here today with their son, Roy Andrew, I offer my deepest condolences for your loss.
It has been said, ''God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to defend it.'' Hana, because of your husband, and the thousands who continue to fight, America will always be free. We're delighted that you're here, sadly under these circumstances. Please stand.
We must acknowledge the great debt we owe patriots like Sgt. Wood. We should honor their service by ensuring that our actions, both in and out of this chamber, are worthy of their sacrifice. We must serve this state as honorably and effectively as they serve this country.
I believe we are on the right path.
Last year, I asked you to join me in an unshakable commitment to educating our children, diversifying our economy, and strengthening the bonds that hold our families together. Today, I thank you for honoring that commitment and ask that we continue on the path of progress for the people we serve.
As a result of your leadership, the state of our state is stronger than ever, because more children are learning in our schools and more children are graduating prepared for success.
We are stronger because we have built a solid foundation for progress and prosperity. A foundation that attracts investment and opportunity like The Scripps Research Institute, as well as high value, high wage jobs, in cutting edge emerging technologies.
We are stronger because we recognize that government isn't the sole answer to the most important questions, and we welcome community and faith based organizations as partners to serve the needs of Florida families.
Florida is in a better position to serve our people and face our future, and I thank the members of the Legislature for creating that opportunity.
In this country true opportunity starts with education. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark case that guaranteed equal access to education. The Florida Department of Education has created an outstanding chronicle of the progress we've made so far toward that goal, and I hope Floridians will take the time to experience this exhibit as it travels around our state.
Today, Florida is closer to fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board than ever before, because the Legislature had the will to pass sweeping education reforms and demand more for our children. I applaud you for the courage this bold move required, and congratulate you on the remarkable success of this effort to date.
Next year, we'll add voluntary universal pre-K, and I urge you to provide the resources we need to train 9,600 preschool professionals this year, and to create the framework for a comprehensive high-quality program focused on critical early literacy skills. You see, as we increase the number of children ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, we decrease the number who will struggle, be retained, and require remedial help in higher grades.
Over the last five years, we've seen rising student achievement in schools across the state. This achievement crosses all ethnic, income, and county lines, proving there are no natural barriers to academic success, only fabricated excuses.
Our A reforms have replaced those excuses with expectations in Florida classrooms and made schools accountable for achieving them. Every year more educators answer that challenge and more students learn a year's worth of knowledge or more in a year's time. Children who once were left behind now find the support they need to reach their potential.
Children like Isaac Cuyler, a 5th grader at Riley Elementary School here in Tallahassee. Isaac struggled as a 2nd grader and again as a 4th grader. His parents and teachers thought it best to give him more time rather than push him forward unprepared.
Last year, Isaac improved from a level one, below basic level reader to a level four, above grade level reader, making a 580-point gain in a single year. That's not learning to take a test, that's learning to read.
Today, Isaac is an honor roll student who reads at a 6th grade level. He also anchors the school's morning television show, he competes in the Black History Brain Bowl, and is a candidate for advanced classes in middle school next year.
Isaac couldn't join us here today; he's busy dazzling his teachers and demonstrating his reading skills on the FCAT. His parents, Catina and Isaac, Sr. are here, and with their permission, I'd like to introduce you to their son and his school through this video.
Mr. and Mrs. Cuyler, we're really proud of your son because he symbolizes and represents so many students now in our state and we welcome you here today.
In addition to success stories like Isaac Cuyler and Riley Elementary, we now have independent confirmation that our education reforms are working for students across our state.
In 2003, Florida's fourth-graders were the only readers in the entire country to show significant learning gains on the National Assessment of Education Progress -- four times the national average. You know, just as a pause, we brag a lot as we should about having the best college football, the best high school football, sometimes the best professional football in the country, I think it's nice that we can brag about having the greatest learning gains as well. That's a nice, nice feeling.
These gains crossed all ethnicities as our minority students outpaced their national counterparts by similar leaps.
That's Isaac's class by the way, proving his kind of achievement is becoming the rule rather than the exception in Florida.
We must push this success into our middle schools as well. I ask you to support this goal by passing the Middle Grades Reform Act, and putting professional reading coaches in our middle schools. My budget funds reading coaches in half of Florida's middle schools, with priority given to those with the lowest performance. These actions will give struggling students in grades six through eight the support they need to succeed.
We have driven accountability into our schools, and achievement is up among our students. The School Recognition Program has been the heart and soul of this success.
People rise to the challenge when recognized for the effort.
I strongly urge lawmakers to continue to fully fund this program. The people we serve live in the real world, where success is directly rewarded. Florida's educators have dedicated their careers to teaching children, a job for which there will never be enough recognition or compensation. They are driving more success in our schools every year. Our teachers and students should be celebrated, applauded and rewarded for a job well done.
As student achievement rises in Florida, so do high school graduation rates. From 1998 to 2002, graduation rates rose steadily among all racial groups. In 2003 we raised the standards for graduation, replacing the eighth-grade level competency test with the 10th-grade FCAT. Despite this higher standard, graduation rates held steady or rose among every group.
We also saw improved results among students with limited English proficiency and those with disabilities. More than 80 percent of limited English proficient seniors earned a high school diploma or certificate last year, compared to 35 percent the year before. More than 87 percent of Florida high school seniors with disabilities completed high school with some type of diploma in 2003, a higher success rate than in years past.
This progress, like the other improvements, stretches across racial lines. The improved results reflect improved education in our state and expanded opportunity for the next generation of Floridians.
As more Florida students read and calculate math at grade level, we need to inspire and prepare them to set their sights on education beyond high school. Our unique College Board Partnership ensures more Florida students, especially those historically underserved, have access to higher education. The program provides professional development programs for teachers, college preparation in inner city and low-income communities, SAT preparation, tutoring programs, and information on college opportunities to families of students.
Since we created this program, the number of minority students taking advanced placement courses in Florida schools has risen by 94 percent. During the same period, we have more than tripled the number of students taking the practice SAT. In 2003 four times as many African American students took this college prep test than in 1998. Among Hispanic students, the number has risen by almost 500 percent.
More students of all backgrounds are preparing for higher education and more are entering Florida's community colleges and universities. Students like Norma Peate, who is here today with her parents. Norma was born in Cuba and lived in Venezuela before moving to Florida with her family at the age of 7.
As a student at Miami Senior High, Norma worked hard to achieve. In her junior year, the school became one of the first to participate in a teacher development program offered by the College Board. At the workshop, teachers learned new techniques for identifying high potential students and introducing them to more challenging curriculum in the Advanced Placement program.
Erick Hueck, the school's AP coordinator, encouraged Norma to challenge herself further by joining his AP chemistry class. After taking that challenge, Norma took advantage of the full range of college preparation classes offered through the College Board partnership, including six more AP classes, as well as the SAT and the ACT.
She's not alone. In 2003, 65 percent of Miami Senior High's 10th-graders took the practice SAT, which was a 376 percent increase over 1999. During the same period, the number of students taking AP courses nearly quadrupled. These are more than numbers, they're students, young men and women who are reaching for their dreams and achieving them.
While earning her diploma, Norma also earned 24 college credits, enough to start her university career almost a year ahead. Today, she's a junior majoring in accounting at one of the top 10 accounting programs in the nation, the University of Florida. She's earned a 3.9 GPA and will begin her masters program in the fall as part of a five-year accelerated program.
Norma comes from a large family. Counting all the cousins, she has more than 200 relatives. She's extremely proud to be the first one of any generation in her entire family to go to college. And we are extremely proud of her. Norma, would you please stand?
The College Board partnership has proven its value to Florida students and universities. I ask you to protect this springboard to higher education, by making it a permanent part of our education system, one that is safeguarded by statute.
As we improve education and opportunity in our public schools, we must also plan for massive success in our community colleges and state universities. This year I've recommended increases in funding for these institutions to help meet the challenge before them. I hope you will make that same commitment.
I also hope you'll take the action required to foster a vibrant, diversified economy that offers opportunity for our graduates to build careers and live their dreams here in Florida.
Over the last five years, we've made the right decisions to drive growth in our state. We've created a business environment that attracts innovation, investments, and jobs. We have also strengthened our commitment to Florida's natural treasures.
We're actively conserving environmentally sensitive land. Everglades restoration is ahead of schedule and under budget. We're restoring the Loxahatchee and opening areas that have been closed for decades by pollution. Today a new marine sanctuary protects the Florida Keys, and conservation along the banks of the Suwannee spurs eco-tourism and the economies of eight rural counties.
From the River of Grass to Florida's springs to the oceans that roll up on our shores, Florida will continue to protect the natural bounty and beauty of our state.