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Obama Calls for $4 Billion in New Education Spending

Van Roekel: Obama right to invest in successful reform, must include partnership with educators


By Cynthia McCabe

January 27, 2010 -- Get creative and get competitive. That's the message President Barack Obama delivered to the nation's public schools in tonight's State of the Union address, as he called for an additional $4 billion for school funding -- including $1.35 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Calling a world-class education "the best anti-poverty program around," Obama said the 2011 budget he'll deliver to Congress next week focuses much of the new education spending on competitive grants.

“We applaud the President’s promise to improve our schools by investing in what works," NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. "NEA members have worked years under the flawed No Child Left Behind law, so we are anxious to work with the administration to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary  Education Act in a way that celebrates successful students, educators, and schools."

Reauthorization won't be easy, Van Roekel said, but, "like the President, we believe the success of our children should not depend more on where they live than their potential."

In the past, the Department of Education distributed money mostly according to formulas that allocated money according to the number of students in various categories like low-income. In the future, the limited federal government funds (roughly 10 percent of all public school funds) will be used as a lever to encourage changes in public education. States, districts, and other education organizations will have to compete for it.

"We only invest in reform -- reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans," Obama said.

Education officials said Wednesday that the new money will include funds for public preschools and comprehensive neighborhood programs to support learning like the program pioneered by the Harlem Children’s Zone, in addition to k-12 education. The $1.35 billion for ESEA represents an expansion of the Obama administration's Race To The Top program. Tonight, Obama referred to that program as "a national competition to improve our schools," that rewarded success and said it will be rolled out to all 50 states, Obama said. (Learn NEA's positions on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act here.)

Obama also demanded that Congress immediately pass legislation to create jobs.

"Jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010," Obama said, drawing loud applause from both sides of the aisle. (Read more about NEA's work on behalf of the Jobs for Main Street Act here.)

Pointing out that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped save 300,000 education jobs, Obama talked about the relief felt by the teacher who learned that her pink slip delivered in the spring would not take effect in the fall. But the crisis in the states is far from over. Many of the jobs spared are still at risk without intervention by the federal government. It's not just teachers, either. Bus drivers, school counselors, and social workers are also needed for schools to function at their best. The U.S. House took a crucial first step by passing the Jobs for Main Street bill and it now lies to the Senate to act.

Obama called for revitalization of the nation's community colleges which provide a career pathway for the children of working families. Echoing NEA's call for college affordability, Obama said legislation must pass that ends unwarranted taxpayer subsidies to banks for student loans, gives families of college students a $10,000 tax credit, and increases Pell Grants for the neediest students. He proposed a plan that would allow 1 million students to pay only 10 percent of their income upon graduation, and that forgives their debt entirely after 20 years, or 10 years if they choose a public service career.

"No one should go broke because they chose to go to college," Obama said.

“The President made it very clear tonight that he refuses to sacrifice the education opportunities available to Americans as a way of digging out of our economic crisis," Van Roekel said.


NEA Today Action


Read what educators were advising President Obama to say in the State of the Union

Learn more about NEA's positions on education funding

Learn more about NEA's Priority Schools Campaign

  • anc_dyn_linksNation’s educators applaud president’s plans to invest in education