Sneak Preview: Obama Challenges Governors to Increase Education Funding

March 6, 2012 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

(This post is based on an upcoming article in Thompson’s Local/State Funding Report. Subscribers can read the entire piece in their March 12 issue.) President Obama used his audience at the recent meeting of the National Governors Association as an opportunity to underscore his administration’s emphasis on secondary and higher education and to challenge governors to make them priorities in their state budgets.

The president focused on education funding in his remarks to the NGA in late February, anchoring it within the context of the country’s current economic challenges. Obama linked educational opportunities to the skills and knowledge needed for a robust, healthy and competitive national economy.

While calling for a stronger manufacturing sector and new U.S.-based sources of energy, the president stated that “no issue will have a bigger impact on the future performance of our economy than education.”

Obama called for governors to invest more heavily in education, expressing concern over sizable state-level cuts and asserting his position that “education is an issue that is best addressed at the state level.”

One of the issues that the president said demands “immediate focus” is getting more teachers into school districts, since more than 250,000 have been laid off over the past four years. He touted his administration’s recent achievements in providing funding to keep teachers in place, and asked governors to encourage Congress to provide additional funding.

The president also stressed the critical role of higher education, including community colleges, in training the current and future workforces. At the same time that he advocated additional effort surrounding student aid, the president acknowledged that the federal government “just can’t keep on … subsidizing skyrocketing tuition,” observing that it is increasing even faster than healthcare costs.

Noting that more than 40 states have cut higher education funding over the past year, the president implicated governors in the rising tuition costs at public colleges and universities. His claim that “state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the decade” is supported by a recent analysis by the Government Accountability Office.

While stating that his administration, Congress, colleges and states each have a role to play in ensuring the availability and affordability of higher education, Obama left the governors with a stern warning: “if [colleges and universities] are not taking concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down.”

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