Obama renews his commitment to equality in education

BY Rachel Wellford  January 28, 2014 at 10:20 PM EDT


In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced that he is pulling together a new coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists who will work to help families access high-quality pre-K education. He also pledged to make higher education within reach for middle class students.

President Obama reiterated his commitment to a range of education issues in his 2014 State of the Union on Tuesday, from early childhood education to training high schools in the technical fields to affordable college tuition.

“Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculum and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test,” the president said. “But it’s worth it — and it’s working.”

Obama cautioned, “the problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time. That has to change.”

The president also spoke about the importance of education to America’s growing and recovering economy. “It’s not enough to train today’s workforce,” he said. “We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.”

In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama argued further cuts to education funding would be harmful to America’s future and end up costing more in the future. The president spoke to the vital importance of providing early childhood education, teaching children technical skills in addition to a regular curriculum and making higher education more affordable.

He challenged secondary schools and universities to form partnerships with each other to help high school students develop technical skills that are desired by employers. In an effort to help college students make more cost-effective choices, Obama announced the creation of the “College Scorecard,” which compares schools based on their costs, graduation rates, loan default rates and other factors.

“It’s a simple fact the more education you’ve got, the more likely you are to have a good job and work your way into the middle class,” the president said in 2013. “But today, skyrocketing costs price too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.”

Throughout 2013, more strides were made to improve education on the state level than at the federal level. On average, states’ higher education funding increased by 5 percent, and colleges and universities in 13 states participated in tuition freezes. These factors led to the lowest average tuition increase since the early 1980s. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown granted more funding to schools with large populations of low-income students. A few states have passed legislation to improve the quality of aid information, loan repayment programs and college savings plans.

Although the Obama administration created the “College Scorecard,” much of the data is outdated or missing. In addition, student loan debt hit $1 trillion this year, making it the second largest cost for households, just behind mortgages.

On the federal level, there was little to no education reform in 2013.

The Senate did not pass a single education measure.

The House of Representatives only sent through two bills, which have yet to be brought up by the Senate. On May 22, 2013, the House passed the Improving Postsecondary Education Data for Students Act. If approved by the Senate, the act would improve transparency of information about higher education institutions. On July 19, the House approved the Student Success Act, which would give states more control over their education systems, forbid the federal government from imposing new requirements on states and promote charter schools, among other things.