by Brian Washington/Photo by Chuck Kennedy
Educators who tuned in to President Obama’s State of the Union address wondering what role public education will play in the administration’s future plans are feeling good about what he had to say. As advocates for the students they teach and the communities where they work, they are eager to see movement on critical issues impacting America.
The president’s common sense agenda to strengthen the middle class and create jobs included new initiatives involving manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing. However, Obama said Tuesday evening that none of these initiatives will matter if we don’t equip people with the skills and training needed to succeed in the jobs of the future. That, he said, has to start by making high-quality pre-K accessible to all children.
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“Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” said the president, who added that most middle-class parents can’t afford private preschool, which could cost several hundreds of dollars. “And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. “
“As a former early childhood educator, I was delighted to hear the president’s proposals to make a quality preschool education available to every child in America,” said Karen Zycznski of Michigan. “As he pointed out, research shows that these children are more likely to graduate from high school, which saves society money down the road. It’s a win, win!”
Education Votes reached out to more than 200 educators nationwide to get feedback on President Obama’s fourth State of the Union address, which also included his proposal to make sure high school graduates are on a path to good jobs.
“Broadening the options for American high school students with technical programs would be an amazing option for my district, where only 40 percent of our graduating seniors are college bound,” said Ohio educator Stacy Recker.
The president also addressed the issue of gun violence, which is currently dominating the national debate. Obama and more than 30 Members of Congress invited those whose lives have been dramatically impacted by gun violence inside the chamber to hear the president’s address. Many of them wore green ribbons in honor of the children and educators killed during the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Others held up pictures of lost loved ones as the president told the story of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed in a park not far from the president’s home in Chicago shortly after performing in inaugural activities in Washington, D.C. Obama said Pendleton’s family, in addition to the families and communities connected to several other deadly shootings—including those in Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., which left former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded—all deserve a vote from Congress on tough, new legislation to curb gun violence.
“They deserve a vote—so powerful,” said Nikki Salvatico, a Pennsylvania educator. “This moved me. It’s a selfless choice to make sure our kids can go to schools with safe and secure learning environments.”
The president is also calling on Congress to take a balanced approached to reducing the deficit that doesn’t place the entire burden on the middle class and essential domestic programs like Medicaid and Medicare and public education. He also urged Capitol Hill lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform now.
Many educators, including Nancy Stenberg of Massachusetts, said they agree with the president and are willing to do what is necessary to get Congress to pass legislation that paves a better future for our children.
“I have never been prouder to be an educator who stands with this president, said Stenberg. “And I am ready to work with him on behalf of our future, the children of American.”
In a statement released following the president’s address, Arizona math teacher Dennis Van Roekel, who represents the more than 3 million teachers, education professionals, and higher education faculty as president of the National Education Association, indicated that Stenberg is not alone.
“We agree with the president that making education and students a priority is an economic imperative,” said Van Roekel. “The president knows that the road to economic prosperity and helping those aspiring to join the middle class runs directly though our nation’s public schools.”
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