President Obama delivered his State of the Union address last night and spent roughly 10 minutes of his 60-minute speech talking exclusively about education.
Two of the standing ovations his speech drew were when he talked about the importance of teachers, how the field should be respected and how we should be encouraging our best and brightest to go into it.
It reminded me of the grassroots movement TASA and TASB have gotten behind called Make Education a Priority. Education seems to always be at the top of every politician’s list when it’s election time or speech time, but how many really make it a priority?
TASA and TASB are holding a news conference on Monday where trustees and superintendents will implore lawmakers to make education a priority while building the state’s budget. They’ll also address the draconian effects proposed cuts will have on Texas schools.
But beyond the “is it really a priority” question, another irony struck me during the President’s address. He talked about how crucial it is to America’s success that we maintain our leadership in research and technology and to do that, he said, we “also have to win the race to educate our kids.”
Obama painted a vivid picture of the very real competition between the U.S. and countries like China and India. A competition in which we’re faltering, the President said, with nearly a quarter of students dropping out of high school, math and science education that lags behind many other nations, and a ranking of 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree.
After highlighting the bad news, Obama issued a challenge: Is America “willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed?” He talked about the role of parents, the community, and schools, and that we need to teach our kids hard work and discipline. He talked about No Child Behind, how it will be replaced this year with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for kids.
“We know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities,” Obama said.
And finally he talked about teachers. How, after parents, the teacher is the biggest impact on a child’s success. In South Korea, Obama said. Teachers are known as “nation builders.” He called for the same level of respect for teachers in the U.S. and the need to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, as baby boomers retire from the classroom.
And here’s where the irony comes in. If you’re a teacher in Texas, or a student at a Texas university studying to be a teacher, that particular comment must’ve been hard to reconcile.
The president is talking about recruiting 100,000 teachers, yet in Texas, draconian budget cuts the likes of which schools have never seen may result in the loss of 100,000 school jobs.
In Texas, we aren’t talking about investing, we’re talking about gutting. In addition to cutting nearly $10 billion from the Foundation School Program over the next two years, the House budget proposal also eliminates grant programs that provide funding for some of the crucial areas the President talked about: $271 million for the technology allotment; $223 million for pre-kindergarten programs; $86 million for the High School Completion and Success Initiative; and $16 million for reading, math and science initiatives.
It’s a difficult balance for lawmakers to be sure. They must be fiscally responsible in tough budget times, and make sure taxpayers’ money is spent wisely. But they also must stimulate the economy and build a vibrant job market.
One thing is for sure, in the global competition America finds itself in today, skimping on education is an incredibly risky move.