Viewpoint: Don’t Stop Now On Higher Ed Reform

Our reforms are taking roots and delivering results

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Rich Sugg / The Kansas City Star / AP

President Barack Obama greets students before the Joplin High School commencement, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Joplin, Mo.

Michelle and I are who we are only because of the chances our education gave us. Great teachers and the chance to earn a college education with the help of scholarships and student loans were our gateways to opportunity. And today more than ever, the education we provide for our children and our workers is the key to a good job and a secure middle-class life.

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I’ve always believed that education begins at home, with parents who take responsibility — who read to their kids, set limits on the TV and instill a lifelong love of learning. But there’s no substitute for a good school or the teacher who stands at the front of the classroom.

We know that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by more than $250,000. A great teacher can change the trajectory of a child’s life. That’s why, even as we faced one of the worst economic crises in history, I fought to keep teachers in the classroom. During my first two years in office, we worked with states to help save the jobs of 400,000 educators.

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But we did more than just invest resources in our schools. We demanded reform in return. And for less than 1% of what our country spends on education each year, we spurred nearly every state to raise standards for teaching and learning. We did this by working with governors of both parties, because giving our kids the best education possible shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue — it’s an American issue.

We’re attacking the dropout crisis, because we know the good jobs of tomorrow will demand more than a high school education. And as we work to graduate more students prepared for college and a career, we’re also working to make higher education more affordable. We cut big banks out of the student-loan program and passed the savings directly to students. We stopped student-loan interest rates from doubling, gave nearly 4 million more young people scholarships to help them afford their degree and invested in our community ­colleges — pathways to the middle class for millions of Americans. In a 21st century economy, higher education cannot be a luxury; it is an economic necessity every family should be able to afford.

So we’re making progress. And there’s more to do. But one thing is certain: we’re not going to get to where we need to be if we turn back now.

My opponent in this election said that teachers are something we need to “cut back on.” And he put forward an economic plan that would help do just that. In order to pay for another round of tax cuts skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, Governor Romney’s economic plan could cut education by up to 20%. It could reduce financial aid for nearly 10 million students. And he plans to undo the student-loan reform we passed so that big banks once again reap taxpayer dollars. Think about what that means: more teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and more young Americans who can’t afford the cost of college. That’s not a plan to create jobs or opportunity or strengthen the middle class — it’s just wrong.

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In early October, Governor Romney said that hiring more teachers won’t grow the economy over the next four years. He’s wrong, of course. Hiring more teachers actually does grow the economy. But he misses a broader point: If we don’t hire more good teachers, what about our kids over the next four years? What about our economy over the next 40 years?

No child should have their dreams deferred because of a crowded classroom or a crumbling school. No family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don’t have the money. No company should have to look for workers in China because it couldn’t find any with the right skills here at home. I refuse to jeopardize our economic future just so that millionaires and billionaires can get another tax cut.

I have a better plan. Together, we can recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next decade. We can give 2 million workers the chance to attend their local community college and arm themselves with the skills that will lead directly to a job. We can work with colleges and universities to cut tuition growth in half over the next 10 years. We can make these investments — and bring down our deficits — by being smart about spending, by winding down the war in Afghanistan responsibly and by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little more.

That’s the path I’m offering. And I’m not only asking for your help. I’m asking for your vote. After all that we have fought through together these past four years — after all the progress we’ve made — now is not the time to go backward. Now is the time to move forward. Together, we can strengthen the middle class, grow our economy for the long term and open new doors of opportunity for all our kids.

MORE: Mitt Romney’s Views on Higher Education Reform