Bloomberg News

Obama Says Better Public School System Key to Economic Recovery

September 24, 2011

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said improving the nation’s public schools is crucial to the U.S.’s economic recovery as he highlighted his decision to let states sidestep the No Child Left Behind law by raising education standards.

“Education is an essential part of this economic agenda,” the president said today in a weekly radio and Internet address that urged Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs plan that includes money for teachers and schools. “It is an undeniable fact that countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Businesses will hire wherever the highly skilled, highly trained workers are located.”

If the U.S. is “serious about building an economy that lasts” and strengthening the middle class, “we had better be serious about education,” Obama said. “We have to pick up our game and raise our standards.”

Yesterday, he announced in a speech at the White House that states that commit to higher standards will get waivers from the No Child Left Behind law. The measure was signed in 2002 by Obama’s Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush.

Obama said the law’s goals “were admirable” in emphasizing proficiency testing and requiring annual progress. But in practice, “teachers are being forced to teach to a test, while subjects like history and science are being squeezed out,” Obama said. “And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states lowered their standards in a race to the bottom.”

Prompting Criticism

The waiver plan was criticized by Congressman John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee who has his own plan for changing the law. It gives the administration “sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers,” Kline said in a statement. “This sets a dangerous precedent, and every single American should be extremely wary.”

In repeating his call for Congress to pass his jobs bill, Obama said it would modernize 35,000 schools and “put tens of thousands of teachers back to work across the country.”

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, in the weekly Republican address, called for a “time out from excessive and costly regulations.”

She criticized an Environmental Protection Agency proposal aimed at controlling pollution from industrial boilers. It is an example of “over-regulation” that is causing employers to “dread what is coming next out of Washington,” Collins said. “We Republicans say, enough is enough.”

Economic Impact

The Republican-led House of Representatives is seeking to have a committee consider economic impacts of EPA rules and to delay rules reducing emissions from power plants.

“Last month, our nation produced no net new jobs,” Collins said. “More than 14 million Americans could not find work.”

Collins said the EPA’s boiler proposal could threaten 36 pulp and paper mills and 20,000 jobs and also hurt suppliers.

“People and businesses would still need paper,” she said. “Where do you think we would get it? We’d be strengthening the economies of other countries like China, India and Brazil, while America’s economy grows weaker.”

The EPA said in a release earlier this year that there are about 200,000 boilers at sites of toxic air emissions nationwide, including 13,800 boilers at refineries and other industrial sites that are large sources of air pollutants. The EPA said cutting emissions from boilers and incinerators could reduce instances of developmental disabilities, cancer, asthma and early death and save money in health costs.

--With assistance from John Hechinger and Roger Runningen. Editor: Jim Rubin, Mark McQuillan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.


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