As Congress is poised to spend at least $80 billion on education programs—and possibly much more—President Barack Obama said in a prime-time news conference tonight that more money for education must be followed by more reform.
And he said he’d work in a bipartisan way to make sure that polices like expanding charter schools and removing ineffective teachers are put in place, along with the increased resources.
I think there are areas like education where some in my party have been too resistant to reform and have argued only money makes a difference. And there have been others on the Republican side or the conservative side who said, 'No matter how much money you spend, nothing makes a difference, so let's just blow up the public school systems.' And I think that both sides are going to have to acknowledge we're going to need more money for new science labs, to pay teachers more effectively, but we're also going to need more reform, which means that we've got to train teachers more effectively, bad teachers need to be fired after being given the opportunity to train effectively, that we should experiment with things like charter schools that are innovating in the classroom, that we should have high standards."
The statement seemed to be a response to GOP lawmakers—and some Democrats—who say that the proposed stimulus package working its way through Congress pumps too much money into schools, without enough strings.
It’s unlikely Obama’s appeal will actually translate into more Republican votes for the super-sized stimulus package, but it does seem to signal that the president isn’t planning to boost education spending without asking for something in return from the nation’s school system.
Obama made it clear that he also considers federal funding of school construction to be a key economic stimulus and investment in the future, even though a huge chunk of the funding for school facilities is slated be stripped out of the Senate’s bill as part of an agreement forged by moderate lawmakers to win passage of the measure.
“I visited a school down in South Carolina that was built in the 1850s,” Obama said. “Kids are still learning in that school, as best they can. ... It’s right next to a railroad. And when the train runs by, the whole building shakes and the teacher has to stop teaching for a while. The auditorium is completely broken down; they can’t use it. So why wouldn’t we want to build state-of-the-art schools with science labs that are teaching our kids the skills they need for the 21st century, that will enhance our economy, and, by the way, right now, will create jobs?”
The House bill includes about $14 billion in school construction spending, plus bonds to help finance school facilities. But $16 billion in money for school facilities was stripped out of the Senate’s bill, as part of a compromise agreement worked out with Senate moderates. The Senate compromise version still includes the tax provisions for school construction bonds.
But Obama’s high-profile support of the school construction funds could signal that his administration may fight for some money for grants to cover the cost of school facilities, in addition to the bonds provision, when the House and Senate eventually reconcile their versions of the bill in conference.
You can read a transcript of the press conference here.