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Obama urges governors to invest more in education

Barack Obama

No issue will have a bigger impact on the future performance of our economy than education.  In the long run it’s going to … determine whether businesses stay here.  It will determine whether businesses are created here, whether businesses are hiring here.  And it will determine whether there’s going to be an abundance of good middle-class jobs in America.  

Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest. Budgets are about choices. So today I’m calling on all of you: Invest more in education. Invest more in our children and in our future.

Now, there are two areas in education that demand our immediate focus. First, we’ve just got to get more teachers into our classrooms. Over the past four years, school districts across America have lost over 250,000 educators — 250,000 teachers, educators have been lost.

Other countries are doubling down on education and their investment in teachers — and we should, too. And each of us is here only because at some point in our lives a teacher changed our life trajectory.

Now, we want to help you everyplace that we can. At the federal level, we’ve already provided billions of dollars in funding to help keep hundreds of thousands of teachers in the classroom. And a cornerstone of the jobs plan that I put forward in September was to provide even more funding, so that you could prevent further layoffs and rehire teachers that had lost their jobs.  

The second area where we have to bring greater focus is higher education. The jobs of the future are increasingly going to those with more than a high school degree. And I have to make a point here. When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree.

We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment.  And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.

Now, for students that are ready for college, we’ve got to make sure that college is affordable. Today, graduates who take out loans leave college owing an average of $25,000. That’s a staggering amount for young people.  Americans now owe more in student loan debt than they do in credit card debt.  So this is a major problem that must be fixed.

So my administration has tried to do our part by making sure that the student loan program puts students before banks, by increasing aid like the Pell grants for millions of students and their families, and by allowing students to cap their monthly loan payments at 10 percent of their income, which means that their repayment schedule is manageable.  

 Congress still needs to do its part by, first of all, keeping student interest rates low. Right now, they are scheduled to double at the end of July if Congress does not act. And that would be a real tragedy for an awful lot of families around the country. They also need to extend the tuition tax credit for the middle class, protect Pell grants, and expand work-study programs.

But it’s not enough to just focus on student aid. We can’t just keep on, at the federal level, subsidizing skyrocketing tuition.  If tuition is going up faster than inflation — faster, actually, than healthcare costs — then no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later we are going to run out of money.  

That means colleges and universities are going to have to help to make their tuition more affordable. And I’ve put them on notice — if they are not taking some concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down.   

Over two-thirds of students attend public colleges and universities where, traditionally, tuition has been affordable because of state investments.  And that’s something that every state takes pride in. But more than 40 states have cut funding for higher education over the past year.

And this is just the peak of what has been a long-term trend in reduced state support for higher education.  And state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the past decade.  

We can’t allow higher education to be a luxury in this country.  It’s an economic imperative that every family in America has to be able to afford.  And frankly, I don’t think any of this should be a partisan issue.  All of us should be about giving every American who wants a chance to succeed that chance.  

Excerpted from President Barack Obama’s address to the National Governor’s Association Meeting on Monday, Feb. 27 at the White House State Dining Room

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