President Barack Obama says changing education policy and spending billions to upgrade schools and keep teachers on the job is the right thing to do, not only for America's schoolchildren but also for the country's future economic vitality.
Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to push his $447 billion jobs bill through the prism of education. He also recapped steps he has authorized to let states opt out of unpopular proficiency standards since Congress has been slow to update the existing law.
"If we're serious about building an economy that lasts, an economy in which hard work pays off with the opportunity for solid middle-class jobs, we had better be serious about education," Obama said. "We have to pick up our game and raise our standards."
Obama said the package of tax cuts and direct spending he has sent to Congress would put tens of thousands of teachers back to work and modernize at least 35,000 schools. He called on lawmakers to pass the bill "right now," as he does on frequent trips outside of Washington to build public support for it. But the bill received a cool reception on Capitol Hill and it could be weeks before lawmakers even begin to debate it.
He said that the 2001 No Child Left Behind education law was well-meaning but has serious flaws that are hurting schoolchildren and that he took action to fix the problems because Congress has yet to do so.
"Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. And they can't afford to wait any longer," Obama said.
On Friday, Obama announced steps to allow states to scrap a key requirement that all children show they are proficient in reading and math by 2014. But states can opt out only if they meet certain conditions, such as imposing their own standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.
"This isn't just the right thing to do for our kids, it's the right thing to do for our country and our future," Obama said.
In the weekly Republican message, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called for a "timeout" on federal regulations that many in her party say are hurting the economy and keeping small businesses from expanding and creating much-needed jobs.
She promoted ideas for taming what she called a "regulatory behemoth," including requiring agencies to consider the costs and benefits of any new regulation before it is imposed. She also suggested putting certain costly new rules on hold for one year.
"In sports, a timeout gives athletes a chance to catch their breaths and make better decisions," Collins said. "American workers and businesses are the athletes in a global competition that we must win. We need a timeout from excessive regulations so that America can get back to work."