Below are Gov. Branstad's remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Iowa children deserve a world-class education, no matter where they live.
That's why Lt. Governor Reynolds and I held the Iowa Education Summit last summer, attended by 1,600 leaders from around the state, nation and world.
That's why we issued a blueprint in October to improve our schools, followed by town hall meetings all over the state to seek Iowans' feedback.
That's why in January we presented a bold legislative reform package, reflecting an improved blueprint.
And that's why I am appealing to you tonight to pass ambitious education reform that moves Iowa forward with a sense of urgency.
Our legislative package is ambitious because Iowa has a lot of work to do.
Watering it down is not fair to our children.
Iowa has a proud education tradition, and we can brag about many good schools today.
Yet we have to face the fact that we are not keeping up with many states and nations.
We led the nation in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math in the early 1990s. Today we rank 29th in fourth-grade reading and 25th in eighth-grade math.
Our scores have stayed about the same. But other states adopted bold reform. They increased their scores, and passed us by.
National test scores indicate we are letting our children down. So do other measures.
On the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, nearly 23 percent of third-graders last school year were not proficient in reading.
On the ACT college-entrance exam, just 31 percent of test-takers in the Class of 2011 were college-ready in all four benchmarked areas.
Meanwhile, youngsters today will compete for jobs in a global economy. They must have the right knowledge and skills for success.
Yet, employers around Iowa tell us they cannot find enough applicants here in Iowa with the right knowledge and skills.
We are shortchanging the career potential of young people.
We are shortchanging the companies that would hire them.
Every student needs to finish high school genuinely ready for post-secondary training or college.
An absolutely critical step is making sure our children can read by the end of third grade.
Our legislative package requires a stronger focus on identifying children struggling to read, and providing intensive instruction.
This starts in kindergarten, and continues through first, second and third grades. But if children are not reading at a basic level at the end of third grade, they should not move on to fourth grade unless they qualify for a good-cause exemption.
I appreciate the concern that a child who is held back may feel badly, but it is even harder on self-esteem to be illiterate.
At the other end of the spectrum, requiring high school students to pass end-of-course exams as a condition of graduation assures a strong foundation for all youngsters.
A high school diploma should have real value.
Plenty of help must be available for youngsters who need to take those exams more than once.
The last key reform I'll mention tonight is stronger teacher and principal evaluations.
We need a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal leading every building.
Just as we must have higher expectations for students, so they are well-equipped for the 21st century workforce, we must have higher expectations for the educators who prepare them.
While we have hard work ahead of us, Iowans have never been afraid of hard work.
They also know the status quo is not good enough.
A recent Des Moines Register Poll found a majority of Iowans support significant reform.
Indeed, it's their top priority for the 2012 Legislature.
Iowans are counting on you to be bold, not timid.
I am counting on you to provide comprehensive education reform this session.
Most important, Iowa's children are counting on your leadership. Than