- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

First lady Michelle Obama on Monday made a pitch for the president’s economic stimulus plan, noting “times of economic challenge” in her first public remarks supportive of the measure being debated in the U.S. Senate.

Mrs. Obama told about 350 employees at the Department of Education that President Obama’s nearly $900 billion stimulus package would “prevent teacher layoffs and education cuts in hard-hit states.”

Mrs. Obama said her husband’s plan would invest in the creation of good jobs around modernizing 10,000 schools.

“We need to keep teachers in the classrooms throughout this time,” Mrs. Obama said.

The workers applauded as she noted the plan would make college more affordable for millions of students by increasing Pell grants and offering tuition tax credits. She said the plan would preserve early childhood education programs and expand them for low-income and disabled students.

Mrs. Obama, venturing out as part of a multi-agency tour to thank government workers, told Education employees that “we’re counting on you,” and said she wanted to remind everyone there “I am a product of your work.”

“I’m a product of people who were investing every day in the education of regular kids who’d grown up on the south side of Chicago, kids on the north side, folks in the south, in the west - young people who oftentimes comes into these systems not knowing their own power and their own potential, believing that there’s some magic out there, to great things,” she said. “Because of the work that you’ve put in, you’ve taught us and helped many of us understand that it is our own hard work and our own belief in self, our commitment to pushing ourselves along, building great communities and families, and reinvesting that energy once we have some successes.”

Standing next to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a friend she has known for years in Chicago, she said he would have a long-term focus on education reform with teacher quality initiatives, turnaround efforts and charter schools.

Mrs. Obama told the group there is a lot of work to do.

“[W]e’re going to need you. … Sometimes I don’t ask for much other than prayer and hard work, and then a little more prayer and then a little more hard work,” she said. “We have to remember that the children of this country are counting on all of us. They’re looking to us for direction. They’re looking to us for that ray of hope. They’re looking to us to help them figure out how to make it through.”

Mr. Duncan told the group that he believes the nation’s children will be saying, “I want to be smart like the President, I want to be smart like the first lady.”

Mrs. Obama said she will visit government agencies to learn and listen and offer thanks, “because so many of you have been here struggling and pushing for decades.”

“Barack and I want to say thank you for what you’ve done and thank you for what you will continue to do,” she said, adding: “We also know that there are new faces coming into this work, and we want to welcome you, and thank you for the hard work that you’re going to put in.”