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« Strategy Memo: Omnibus Vote Today | Blog Home Page | Dems Defend Economic Policies »

Obama Defends Education Push, Links Plan To Economy

President Obama's education speech opened on a defensive note, answering criticism that he should be bringing a singular focus on the economy.

"I know there's some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time," he said. They forget, he quickly added, that Lincoln "helped lay down the transcontinental railroad and passed the Homestead Act and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of civil war." FDR fought a war and a depression. And Kennedy "didn't have the luxury of choosing between civil rights and sending us to the moon." "And we don't have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term," he concluded.

Fifty days into his administration, he called education a critical area because "the future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens."

"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us," he said. "The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, it's unsustainable for our democracy, it's unacceptable for our children -- and we can't afford to let it continue."

Notably, Obama's remarks largely ignored the No Child Left Behind policies of his predecessor. Instead, he proposed incentives for good teachers, grants to schools who raise standards, and a greater investment in early childhood education. Funding for some of his proposals was already tucked into the stimulus bill, though he also asked Congress to act on Early Learning Challenge Grants.

Obama closed by saying that as important a role government can play in improving education, parents can play the most important role. He followed with a familiar story about the role his mother played in his education, waking him up early for additional lessons before school.

"It's because she did this day after day, week after week, because of all the other opportunities and breaks that I got along the way, all the sacrifices that my grandmother and my grandfather made along the way, that I can stand here today as President of the United States," he said. "I want every child in this country to have the same chance that my mother gave me, that my teachers gave me, that my college professors gave me, that America gave me."