As he barnstorms the country to tout the American Jobs Act, President Obama has made the case that spending money now will pay off later in global productivity and competitiveness. And one of the biggest investments he is proposing is in education.
Obama’s $447 billion jobs package includes $30 billion to renovate high schools and community colleges nationwide, along with another $30 billion to help local jurisdictions hire and retain teachers.
On Tuesday, Obama will conclude a three-day, three-state western swing with a visit to Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver. Such school tours are his latest way to highlight the education proposals and pressure congressional Republicans to support the jobs stimulus.
“Think about it. There are places like South Korea that are adding teachers to prepare their kids for the global economy, at the same time as we’re laying off our teachers left and right,” Obama said in a speech at a high school in Columbus two weeks ago. “Budget cuts are forcing superintendents here in Columbus and all over the state to make layoffs they don’t want to make. It is unfair to our kids, it undermines our future, and it has to stop.”
The argument is crucial to the president’s philosophy that the federal government cannot simply cut spending and expect to recover quickly from the economic slowdown and high unemployment rate. He has insisted on a “balanced approach,” a mix of tax cuts for small businesses and investments in schools and roads.
But while Republicans have agreed with the president on the tax breaks, they have pushed back on the idea that new spending will help solve the nation’s problems.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued that Obama has already tried this approach, unsuccessfully, in his $787 billion stimulus two years ago.
“The 2009 stimulus bill included $53.6 billion in state stabilization funds under the guise of preventing the layoff of teachers, law enforcement officers, and other municipal employees,” Boehner wrote in a recent memo to fellow House Republicans. “This band-aid approach masked over the true fiscal problems facing states and local governments. Some jurisdictions used the funds to provide onetime raises; others retained employees for a short period of time, only to lay them off later. The President is proposing more of the same with an additional $30 billion in spending.”
Obama’s schools proposal would help modernize up to 35,000 schools nationwide, administration officials said, adding computer labs and replacing aging roofs and boilers.
Under the plan, 40 percent of the $30 billion for renovations would go to the 100 largest school systems, with the other 60 percent given to states to allocate among high-need districts, including rural areas.
States would have three to six months to get the money to the school districts, which would in turn have two years to use it for the modernization projects, the White House said.
“Cash-strapped school districts face a $270 billion backlog in repairs,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said two weeks ago. “The poorest school districts face crumbling ceilings, and the buildings lack basic wiring for computer labs. . . . This is not a partisan issue. The physical conditions are simply shameful. It’s no place for children to learn.”
Obama is scheduled to make remarks at Abraham Lincoln High at 4:15 p.m. Eastern time. We will carry live video of his remarks on 44.