Obama Calls For Focus On Education

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President Barack Obama greets students as he tours Miami Central Senior High School in Miami, Friday, March, 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama says he won’t accept failure in the country’s education system, or listen to “naysayers” who argue that some schools are beyond repair.
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Obama told high school students in Miami on Friday that companies hire where the talent is and that the single most important thing businesses are looking for are skilled, educated workers.

Giving a bipartisan boost to his education agenda, Obama appeared with Florida’s former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush at Miami Central Senior High School. The president said that the status quo on education is unacceptable. A good education equals a good job, Obama said, and warned his audience: “You can’t even think about dropping out.”

Miami Central is one of hundreds of low-performing schools across the nation that have received federal turnaround money, and Obama used it as an example of how a school can succeed.

EARLIER REPORT

Bridging partisan divides, President Barack Obama sought Friday to lift up his education reform agenda in the politically crucial state of Florida. Touring a low-performing school that is undergoing a turnaround of academic achievement, Obama paired up with the state’s former Republican governor, Jeb Bush, the brother of Obama’s White House predecessor.

The president was greeted in Miami by the state’s ardently conservative governor, Rick Scott, who just rejected billions in federal dollars for the president’s cherished high-speed rail initiative. From there, Obama headed to Miami Central Senior High School for another unlikely political pairing, with Jeb Bush, Florida’s popular GOP ex-governor. Bush has championed education and has found common ground with Obama even though the current president blamed Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, for overseeing disastrous economic times.

“Education and education reform are not Democratic issues, not Republican issues,” presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters flying with the president to Florida. A major element of Obama’s trip was to show the bipartisan imagery of appearing with Jeb Bush, part of a broader outreach effort after Obama’s party took a pounding in the midterm congressional elections.

At the school, Obama and Bush toured a classroom where students built robots. Several of the students said they wanted to be engineers, to which Obama said: “I can say this because I’m a lawyer: We need more engineers. Few lawyers and investment bankers and more engineers.”

Miami Central Senior High is one of hundreds of low-performing schools across the nation that has received money from the Education Department aimed at bringing turnarounds. Obama aides said Bush recommended the school as an example of how gains can be made through reform.

Scott met Obama on the tarmac after the president arrived in Air Force One, a greeting role state and local politicians often play when the president arrives in town. It was notable Friday because of Scott’s ideological tussle with Obama over $2.4 billion intended to build a high-speed rail route between Tampa and Orlando. High-speed rail is one of the priorities Obama promotes as part of an agenda designed to boost U.S. competitiveness, but Scott dismissed the project as a boondoggle that Florida taxpayers would end up saddled with.

Just Friday morning the Florida Supreme Court sided with Scott on the issue, saying the governor had the authority to kill the rail line. It was a defeat for federal officials who will now send the money to other states.

Nonetheless, Obama and Scott shook hands and smiled after Obama walked down the stairs in sunny Miami. It was a quick greeting but one with some symbolism for a president navigating the new realities of divided government following the Republican takeover of the House in the November elections.

Obama’s bipartisan overture comes as the president and Democrats are in the midst of partisan warfare with Republicans over budget cuts. Obama he will need at least some GOP support if he’s to resolve that divide and pass any substantial legislation, including education reform, in the second half of his term.

One of his education imperatives this year is to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act, a signature initiative of former President George W. Bush.

Obama assailed the president during his own 2008 campaign and often refers to Bush’s eight years in office as a period of decline for middle-class Americans.

That frequent criticism didn’t sit well with Jeb Bush. In an interview last year, he said Obama’s tendency to blame his brother’s administration for problems, including the economic crisis, was “childish.”

“He apparently likes to act like he’s still campaigning, and he likes to blame George’s administration for everything,” he said at the time.

Education, however, is an area where Obama and Jeb Bush agree. Both support increasing the number of charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests, and setting high standards and accountability. They also believe education is key to invigorating U.S. competitiveness.

Obama has called for fresh spending on education in the 2012 budget he unveiled last month, saying that improving America’s schools isn’t an area where the government can cut back, even as Congress looks for ways to reduce spending and bring down the nation’s mounting deficit.

The federal government has spent about $800,000 on Central Senior High School to help its efforts to turn itself around.

“America can no longer afford a collective shrug when disadvantaged students are trapped in inferior schools and cheated of a quality education for years on end,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in an opinion piece in the Miami Herald that previewed Friday’s trip.

Despite sharing the spotlight with Republicans early in the day, Obama will wrap up his trip to Miami on a partisan note. He’ll headline two fundraisers for Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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