WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Monday urged the nation's governors to invest more state resources in education, saying a highly skilled workforce is crucial for the U.S. to remain competitive with other countries.
Obama made his pitch at a White House meeting with governors in Washington as part of the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association. The president and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a black tie dinner with the governors Sunday night.
Obama said at Monday's session that he sympathized with governors whose state budgets have been badly squeezed during the economic downturn. But he said that was no reason to trim resources from schools.
"The fact is that too many states are making cuts in education that I think are simply too big," Obama said. "Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest. Budgets are about choices."
He reaffirmed his view that decisions about education should be left to states and not the federal government. "I believe education is an issue that is best addressed at the state level," the president said, "and governors are in the best position to have the biggest impact."
It was a message directed largely to Republican governors, many of whom have complained of too much federal intrusion in state matters including education. Several prominent GOP governors were in the room as the president spoke, including Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
Obama earlier this month granted waivers to 10 states, freeing them from some of the toughest requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, as long as they measure student progress with their own standards.
He called on governors to assist that effort toward a more state-centered approach to education by spending more on education.
"That does not mean we have to invest in things that aren't working," he said. "It doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense to break some china and move aggressively on reforms. But the fact of the matter is we don't have to choose between resources and reforms, we need resources and reform."
Specifically he called for more teachers in the classroom. He also noted that 21 states require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.
"I urge others to follow suit of those 21 states," Obama said.
On higher education, Obama said more than 40 states have cut financing of public colleges and universities over the past year. "This is just the peak of what has been a long term trend of reduced state support for higher education," he said.
The president said more than 40 states have cut funding for public colleges, universities and community colleges over the past year.
Obama said his administration, Congress and the institutions themselves need to do more to make higher education more affordable. And he warned that other countries have been "doubling down" on education funding while the U.S. has cut back.
"The countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow," Obama said. "If we want America to continue to be number one and stay number one, we've got some work to do."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who has clashed with Obama on immigration and other issues, said she supported his message on education.
"In Arizona, we're going to implement basically the things he talked about. That is one area we agree on," Brewer told reporters.
Jindal said that while he shared many of Obama's views on education, his differences with the president on taxes, spending and energy policies were unbridgeable.
"I walked into the meetings today believing we need a conservative in the White House and I left the meetings continuing to believe that," Jindal said.
Associated Press Writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.