- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saying the country’s competitiveness was tied directly to the quality of its schools, President Obama on Tuesday said there was “nothing responsible” about cutting federal education spending even as lawmakers on Capitol Hill look to trim a ballooning federal deficit.

During a visit to Massachusetts’ TechBoston Academy, Mr. Obama held up the pilot school as a national example of how targeted investments and local flexibility can dramatically improve student performance. The academy, housed in what was once a failing high school, has produced student test scores that have soared since its founding in 2002 with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr. Obama’s remarks put him right back in the center of the spending fight in Washington, where he has tried to put education money off-limits from cuts even while promising to get spending under control.

“We cannot cut back on the very investments that will help our economy grow and our nation to compete,” Mr. Obama said after a tour of the school with Mrs. Gates, wife of Microsoft Corp. founder and philanthropist Bill Gates. “There’s nothing responsible about that. There’s nothing responsible about cutting back in our investment in these young people.”

Mr. Obama has increasingly emphasized education as a key to his “win the future” message of global competitiveness and job growth. In addition to asking for more education dollars, he has called on Congress to overhaul the No Child Left Behind education law this year so that local districts have greater flexibility than is currently allowed by the law, which relies heavily on federal metrics and standardized testing.

It isn’t clear that the White House will meet its goal of rewriting the measure by the fall, however. Some members of the GOP have said it should be scrapped entirely, though other Republicans have said they will try to work with Mr. Obama on revamping it.

Mr. Obama said the TechBoston Academy experiment proves that schools need more money and autonomy, but said additional resources must be accompanied by greater accountability.

“We’ve got to reward good teachers,” he said. “We also have to stop making excuses for bad teachers.”

Mr. Obama’s brief trip to Boston included an evening fund-raiser for House Democrats.

But the GOP seized on that political side of the trip, saying the president seemed more focused on helping the House Democrats’ campaign committee reduce its deficit than in working on the federal deficit.

In an e-mail sent out targeting more than a dozen House Democrats, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said voters would have preferred if the president and Democrats “showed as much enthusiasm for tackling the national deficit placed upon their backs as they’re showing for fund-raising galas to pay off Democrat Party campaign debts.”

Mr. Obama’s education plan would boost federal education spending by 11 percent. It includes $900 million for his signature Race to the Top grant program, as well as $90 million for a new grant competition focused on technological innovation in the classroom.

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