In addressing a combined audience comprised of the Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater chambers of commerce this month, Gov. Gary Locke outlined some of his achievements as well as his wish list for one of his biggest issues- education.

He also introduced a new program designed to help employers find new student hires on the Internet.

At the packed Dec. 8 tri-chamber forum attended by 400 members, the governor took credit for reducing the number of Washington families on public assistance from 96,000 to 59,000, which was lower than his stated goal of 84,000 by July of this year. The savings garnered from not having to pay those families that went off the state’s welfare rolls was used to pay for job training and child care subsidies, Locke said.

Locke also supported regulatory reforms that repealed and rewrote state rules, and made it easier for businesses to file their taxes on the Internet.

“We’re still working on paying your taxes by credit card so you can get your frequent flier miles,” Locke said.

Locke added that the state must “tighten our belts” when it comes to dealing with budget issues in the wake of Initiative 695, which not only reduced automobile licensing tabs to a flat $30 fee, but prohibits governments from introducing any new fees or increases without express voter approval.

But later in his speech, he called for the right of all students who pass a tenth grade competency test to attend college through expense-paid scholarships. The state already offers Promise Scholarships, which award scholarships to the state’s top 15 percent of students who otherwise could not afford to go to college. Locke supports a broader plan.

“We want every child to have the opportunity for a college education,” Locke said. “If we don’t reward students for excellence, they have no reason to do so.”

Locke also called for reduced class sizes to improve the quality of public education from kindergarten through the 12th grade, citing the fact that Washington state ranks 48th nationwide in class size.

Randy Luke, president of the Lacey-Thurston County Chamber of Commerce who introduced Locke, is supportive of the Governor’s intentions but was skeptical that it could be done in the wake of I-695.

“If he can find the money, I think that’s great,” Luke says of the scholarship proposal. “He’s really dedicated to furthering education. But with 695, there are other issues he has to pay attention to.”

Luke also points out another inconsistency in Locke’s policies: “Only one in three jobs is going to require a college education in the future. Community college and vocational-technical institutions are going to fill a lot of that gap.”

Locke also introduced a new web page organized by South Sound school districts and chambers of commerce to help employers, including himself, find new student hires.

With tongue-in-cheek humor, Locke told Mike Hickman, director of vocational education for the Olympia School District and a member of the Connections Consortium, what he was looking for in a candidate to fill a post that had just become open at his office- that of communications director. Hickman entered the qualities into a computer and came up with two student matches.

Locke seriously replied that he was always looking for intern help.

The web page, to open on Jan. 1, will not only allow employers to look for recruits; it would also provide information on how businesses can get involved in local schools in other ways, from serving on an advisory committee to letting local area school districts know about what they think graduates should know.

For more information about ConnecQuest, log onto www.connectquest.org or call Hickman at (360) 753-8916.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff