North Carolina State of the State Address 2001

Following is the full text of North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley's State of the State Address:

Mr. Speaker. Sen. Basnight. Lt. Governor Perdue. Members of the General Assembly. Chief Justice, Members of the Court, Council of State, Honored Guests, and fellow citizens. I am proud to stand here before you tonight at the beginning of a bright new age for North Carolina. We leave behind a decade that will long be remembered as one of the most rewarding in our history. Through triumph and great tragedy, the people of North Carolina rallied together like never before - for our schools, for our communities, for our families.

Our citizens poured out their hearts and their souls, and helped North Carolina blossom into the finest place in all of America to live and raise a family. Our eastern counties, completely devastated just a year and a half ago, are rebuilding with great vision and courage. Our universities and community colleges are among the best in the nation. Our crime rate is lower than it has been in a generation. And, for the first time in recent memory, the rest of the country is looking to North Carolina as the standard for improvement in education and childcare.

I want to personally thank you for putting people first and putting party differences aside. Good government is not about Democrats and Republicans. It is about children, seniors and working families. You put them first.

I began working with you as a prosecutor to toughen criminal laws back in the 70s and 80s. As attorney general, we worked together on almost every issue facing this state. When I set out to reach a national tobacco settlement, you had doubts but you stuck with me; when I set out to remove the prison cap, you had doubts but you stuck with me; and when I set out to stop predatory lending, you stuck with me again. We always worked together. I believe tonight that the same bipartisan spirit we have enjoyed for so long will continue over the next four years.

But too often, history records progress under the name of the Governor's administration. Too often, we fail to recognize the leadership and vision that exists in the halls of the General Assembly. Year after year, and session after session, you make the tough calls and suffer the consequences. I think it is right that we remember that - and on behalf of the people of North Carolina, I thank you.

You are the first legislature of the new century. You have a chance to be remembered as the group that brought sustained progress to North Carolina. You have a chance to make history and be remembered for it. In the past, our progress and economic prosperity have run in cycles. We have invested in education in good times, but failed to complete the job when the economy slows. Our state has seen this cycle repeated decade after decade. We make great progress, only to see it erode. Friends, we've come too far this time. We have too much invested and too much left to do. What took decades to build will be lost overnight if we fail to make critical investments in our people. Any state can make progress in good times. It's the great states that make progress in the tough times. It's the darkest hours that draw out our brightest stars. And now is the time for North Carolina to shine. For again, as we move from one decade to another, we face another budget shortfall. Again, we face the challenge. Again, we stand at a crossroads. We can go forward or we can let this budget turn us back. I have made my decision. I'm going forward - and I need you to go with me. Tonight, I urge you to be restless - be dissatisfied with the status quo. If we're going to make progress, we have to be willing to change. The people of this state want progress, and it's our job to see that they get it.

We will have a balanced budget by June 30. That's my job and I'm going to do it. But next year's budget is one we write together. We will make the tough calls to make sure the budget is balanced. We must remove the budget deficit without compromising our future. We have a responsibility to look ahead, beyond budget cycles and legislative terms. We must think in terms of lives ... the lives of all our people and the quality of life they all enjoy.

Tonight, I urge you to stand with me in a commitment to One North Carolina where every citizen in every region has a fair chance to succeed. North Carolina values require that we all work together to spread our success, not by taking wealth from any one region, but by sharing opportunity and expertise with every region.

North Carolina must be one state where opportunity is equal. No Excuses. No Excuses means investing in our people. It means maintaining our commitment to education by making sure that every child in every county has every opportunity to succeed, regardless of economic condition. It means taking care of our seniors, those who took care of us for so many years. It means protecting patients' rights. It means keeping North Carolina competitive in the global marketplace. It means protecting our environment so that our children can swim in the same waters and harvest the same land that we did. It means not using the tough economy as a reason to quit. More than 100,000 five-year-olds will start kindergarten in August, whether the economy is strong or weak.

More than 1.3 million children will fill our classrooms to pursue a quality education, whether interest rates are high or low. Those with illness and those with disabilities will still need our help, whether Wall Street is up or down. We must meet the needs of our people in good times and in bad. For, it is during those tough times that we test our leadership, our character and our commitment to the Golden Rule.

Other states can choose their own course - we in North Carolina choose to go forward. Our schools have made great strides, but in many parts of our state they are simply not the schools our children deserve. When we talk about being No. 1 in education, let's stop and think about the context in which we are speaking.

We basically have four parts to education in this state and we are leading the way in three of them. The first is early childhood development where we have a national model in Smart Start. The second is the university system. We were the first in the country to start a state-supported university and we remain the envy of the nation today. The third is our community colleges, considered one of the most comprehensive systems in the country. The fourth is K-12. It makes absolutely no sense that we can be a national leader in the other three categories yet lag behind in K-12. We can't be satisfied to be a leader in most categories of education. We must be a leader in all categories of education. We can be No. 1 across the board. We're making real progress. We're beginning to turn the corner. And we cannot stop now. We can't let a budget shortfall become an education shortfall. This year, we have to break that cycle, finish the job, overcome any barrier and let those young minds flourish. We can't make excuses.

If we want our students to succeed, they must arrive at the schoolhouse door ready to learn ... and once inside, they need an encouraging environment that allows them not just to pass but to excel. Tonight, I'm proposing a two-part initiative designed to give children the boost they need during their early learning years.

First, the creation of a voluntary statewide pre-kindergarten program to prepare at-risk four-year olds for school. We know it works. Each year, our state lets thousands of at-risk four-year olds go without the help they need. There's no excuse. Those children deserve the chance to succeed. Pre-k programs are already making progress in 40 other states, including Georgia. Our children deserve the same opportunity. With a pre-k program we can close the achievement gap that has been tolerated for far too long. We will not be part of a system of education that discriminates against even one North Carolina child. Pre-k and smaller classes will solve that problem.

Next, we must take steps to ensure that the progress made in pre-k won't be lost in grade school. We must reduce class size to 18 or below in grades K-3. Students in smaller classes are more likely to stay in school, stay out of trouble, graduate and go to college. We have great universities, let's educate our children so they can use them.

I'm asking you, the 2001 Legislature, to take this step for our children and for our state. More testing alone is not the answer. Students need more knowledge. They must have a better environment to learn more if we expect them to score more. Almost 40 percent of our children are in classes of 26 or more. That's just too large.

The best research, from the Rand Institute, the Tennessee Star program and our own Burke County, shows that smaller classes translate into higher performance. Smaller classes allow for more one-on-one instruction so that teachers can teach and students can learn. Achievement goes up, discipline problems go down and teachers are more likely to stay in the profession. We know it works. It's working right now in Burke County. They are following the model that I am recommending tonight. Those students in small classes outperformed their peers and continued outperforming them throughout their academic career. We know smaller classes work, there's no excuse not do it.

North Carolina is recognized for real accountability and high standards. But accountability is simply enforcing standards - rewarding those who meet the standards and sanctioning those who don't. We are simply not doing enough to help students reach higher standards. We can set all the standards we want and demand all the accountability we like, but unless we have tools in place to help students learn more, they're not going to improve. Pre-k and lower class size are the tools that work.

If you give good teachers lower class size, they'll give you higher test scores - for all students. That much I guarantee. That's why we must invest in the Teaching Fellows program. It's based on a simple principle: we pay teachers to go to school and they pay us back by teaching school. It helps us get and keep high-quality educators. Now, there's no free lunch. It takes revenue. And in this tight fiscal environment, it is going to take some creative solutions to continue funding real progress in education.

The truth is, North Carolina is already funding smaller classes and education improvements. Unfortunately, we're funding them in other states ... in Virginia, in Georgia, and soon in South Carolina and Tennessee. We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars - North Carolina's dollars - to build new schools in other states, while we're packing our kids in trailers at home. We are the only state that plays the lottery and gives away the proceeds.

I want to keep North Carolina's money in North Carolina's schools for North Carolina's children. Those resources could, and should, stay home. Now I am not saying a lottery for education is the only solution, it's just one solution. If anyone has a better idea ... if anyone has another way to find the $400 million to $500 million for education, I am open to it. But you can't just say "no" we're against a lottery - finish the sentence - tell me what you're for, because next year 100,000 five-year olds will show up at the schoolhouse door and they deserve more than an overcrowded classroom and an overworked teacher. They deserve to know what we are for - that we stand for a system that works for all children - No Achievement Gaps, No Excuses.

Now, we can do a lot with education that doesn't take money. I talked earlier about the four parts of education. There is another part that's just as critical - parental involvement. As parents, we must make it a priority to be a part of our child's education.

Let's put school accountability report cards in every household to tell parents exactly how many students are in their child's class and whether the teacher is certified in the subjects they are teaching. That will get parents informed, empowered and involved. And we all like to believe that children are taught respect, responsibility and character at home and in church - but the sad truth is; some are not. And, if they don't learn it at the schoolhouse, the next stop is the courthouse.

I'm asking school boards to implement a plan for character education to educate our students' hearts as well as their minds. It is working well in many counties - we can expand character education to all counties in North Carolina. And our schools don't need students showing up in clothes laced with profanity. I'm asking every school board to enforce a reasonable dress code policy. I am not talking about uniforms, we'll leave the dress code to the local boards. Students come to school to learn - not to party -and the dress code should reflect that.

Lastly, we're going to put more discipline in our classrooms so that those students who want to learn will have every opportunity to learn. No parent should ever have to take their child out of public school because they fear for their child's safety and no teacher should ever be asked to tolerate disrespect.

Tonight, I am directing funds from the Governor's Crime Commission to establish more alternative schools across the state. Right now, there are over 7,000 students suspended or expelled each year, many of them with no education solution at all. When we expel a student, they don't go away, they just leave school and take their trouble to the streets. We have to be smarter in dealing with troubled kids or they just become problem adults. The truth is, we have a lot to do to improve our schools. Our schools can't be below average by any measure. We don't have below average children. They do not have below average ambitions. And, we are not going to tolerate below average schools. We owe our students results. We owe the future of North Carolina results. Not excuses.

And there's no excuse for families being denied basic patients' rights -especially when they are paying for those rights. Tomorrow, we're introducing a Patients' Bill of Rights that many of you have been working for. It will protect patients' rights and it will make our principle very clear - if an insurer denies access to its consumers and that denial results in injury then they must face the consequences just as a doctor, nurse or hospital.

Those insurers who are trying to limit your medical treatment have to accept the accountability as well as the profit. And we will have a prescription drug plan for seniors. The rising cost of medication has caused many to choose between pain medication and antibiotics. The result is they end up sick, in the hospital - more cost for us and more suffering for them. We have the funds available from a portion of the tobacco settlement to help our seniors - the greatest generation - those who fought World War II and the Korean War. They were there for us when we needed them and we will be there for them now that they need us. No Excuses. Whether children, seniors or working families - we won't leave anyone behind in One North Carolina.

Every citizen of every age and every location must be included in our one state - the young and the old - the rural and the urban - large cities as well as small towns. And as the new economy demands more technology, so must we teach it. As the new economy requires lifelong learning, we will provide it. For technology will not replace those enterprises and industries that have built this state - it will enhance them.

We must be willing to make smart and targeted investments to attract new and better jobs. But we must close revenue loopholes that defy good business practice and fly in the face of fundamental fairness. I've asked former Treasurer Harlan Boyles to chair a commission to review tax incentives that cannot be justified in our current economic condition. And as we expand our economy to all North Carolina - every citizen in every region - we must resist the temptation to trade short-term economic gain for long-term environmental harm.

We in North Carolina see the environment as more than an abstract issue. We see the water as something the fisherman fish, the land as something the farmers till and the air as something we all must breathe. Our environmental laws must be strengthened and they must be enforced. I have proposed Truth in Penalties so that environmental fines cannot be manipulated. These laws will be clear, understandable and they will be consistent. And I urge you to continue the moratorium on open-air lagoons as we all work together to develop affordable technology to replace them.

As I close tonight, I ask you to set your sights high. Remember your heritage and those 8 million people who you 170 are so fortunate to represent. North Carolina was founded more than 400 years ago by pioneers who dared to search for a dream. Our state was built by the sweat and grit and resolve of generations who dared to be the best. They made No Excuses. That same spirit and determination has stayed with us all these years. It's the spirit that led us to fly the first plane. It's the spirit that helped us build the first, and finest, state university. It's the spirit that drives you and me to work for the people. And it's the same spirit that will help us create One North Carolina. Let our accomplishments over the next four years be remembered not just as products of my administration, but as the legacy of this Legislature, the people's Legislature, one that was willing to be bold and aggressive. The 01 Legislature.

And yes, we're going to have to make some tough and controversial decisions this year - and take some political risks. I don't have to be in the Governor's Office, and you don't have to be in the General Assembly. But next year, the five-year-olds have to be in kindergarten, and the six-year-olds have to be in the first grade. Those young minds are perishable commodities - we can't just put them on a shelf for two years and hope for better economic days. We have to act this year. If we're going to be representatives of the people, then let's represent the people. If we're going to lead the state, then let's lead the state. We are not going to get there by being timid and cautious. We'll get there by being bold and aggressive.

Friends, I ran for governor because I wanted to make sure that the working men and women of this state - the people who get up early, work late, fight the traffic and pay the bills - have a champion in Raleigh. They do in me, and I believe they do in you.

I pledge tonight that I'll fight as hard as I can for you, and I'll fight as hard as I can for North Carolina. I ask you to join me. Thank you, and God Bless North Carolina.
All State of the State Addresses for North Carolina :