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By Roger Runningen
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama urged the nation’s governors to avoid cutting resources for public education as they look for ways to trim budgets, saying future U.S. economic growth depends on a skilled workforce.
Addressing the National Governors Association at the White House, Obama said Feb. 27 that both parties must get “past the old dogmas” about education to keep the U.S. competitive.
“Too many states are making cuts to education that I believe are simply too big,” Obama told the association, which is holding its annual conference in Washington. “We don’t have to choose between resources and reform; we need resources and reform.”
The White House released a report showing that 41 of the 50 states reduced spending for colleges, universities and community colleges, with New Hampshire making the deepest cut at 41 percent, followed by Arizona for a 25 percent cut and Wisconsin at a 21 percent reduction. Rhode Island was one of nine states to increase spending, up 13 percent, according to a study by Grapevine Annual Compilation on State Fiscal Support for Higher Education.
A majority of states, 28, also reduced funding for elementary and secondary education, the administration said, citing a report by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, based in Washington.
“Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state as the decisions you make about where to invest,” Obama told governors. “Budgets are about choices, so Feb. 27 I’m calling on you to choose to invest more in teachers, invest more in education, and invest more in our children and their future.”
He also urged governors to follow the lead of 21 states that require students to remain in high school until they graduate or turn 18.
As the recovery is gaining steam and U.S. manufacturers are adding jobs, Obama said states must ensure that all their residents have the skills and education they need to keep the country competitive.
Over the weekend, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum called Obama a “snob” because “he wants everybody in America to go to college.”
“I think because there are a lot of people in this country that have no desire or no aspiration to go to college because they have a different set of skills and desires and dreams that don’t include college,” Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania said on ABC’s “This Week” program yesterday. He also said colleges force a “political-correct left doctrine” on students.
Without making reference to Santorum, Obama told the governors that “I have to make a point here.”
He said he wasn’t referring only to a four-year degree when talking about higher education. Obama said his call includes community college training for manufacturing jobs that increasingly require more than a high school education.
“We all want Americans getting those jobs of the future,” he said.
The association’s meeting is being held against a backdrop of election-year politics focused on the economy. The jobless rate has fallen in 46 of the 50 states in December compared with a year ago, Labor Department figures show. Only in Illinois, Hawaii, North Carolina and Mississippi have rates worsened in the past year.
The accelerating recovery has improved fiscal outlooks for states. For the past four years, U.S. states struggled to close more than $500 billion of budget shortfalls caused by the longest recession since the 1930s.
“I get a sense that most governors are feeling a little bit better,” Governor Dave Heineman, the Nebraska Republican who is chairman of the National Governors Association, said as he opened the group’s meeting Feb. 25.