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Education Highlights of the State of the Union Address


Event Brief

Prepared by:

Della Cronin (
Washington Partners, LLC

January 28, 2010

On Wednesday, January 27, 2010, President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union Address. While the economy and jobs were front and center, the media had been suggesting that education would be a major component of the address in the days before its delivery. While the issue was addressed, analysts say it only took up about five percent of the speech’s content. This could be more a result of the many issues the President wanted to address rather than a direct reflection of education’s place on his agenda.

The President immediately discussed the state of the economy and the difficulty facing the nation, reminding his audience that his Administration and Congress acted “immediately and aggressively” to turn the economic tide last year with enactment of a number of bills, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Acknowledging that the unemployment rate remains around 10%, and that, among other burdens, families are unable to “save enough to retire or help kids with college,” he called for a new jobs bill to be put “on his desk without delay.” (The House has passed a bill that includes a $23 billion investment in teacher jobs and $4 billion in school construction. The Senate has not acted to date. President Obama called on the Senate to make this bill its first order of business.)

Saying, “In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education,” the President connected education to an improved economy. Noting that it is important to reward success rather than failure, he said that his Administration had launched a national competition to improve US schools—referring to the Race to the Top program. He spoke of raising student achievement, improving math and science outcomes, and turning around failing schools.

He discussed the need to “renew” the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) and pass a bill to revitalize the community colleges. “Still, in this economy a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. That’s why I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.” (This effort is stalled with many other initiatives in the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which the House passed last year and the Senate has yet to introduce.) He also spoke of college affordability via the restructuring of the student loan system, an increase in Pell Grants, more tuition tax credits, and limitations on student loan repayment burdens to a percentage of income.

Republican Reaction

Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA), who has been in office eleven days, delivered the Republicans’ response to the President’s address. While much of his address focused on what Republicans see as disagreement with the White House on the appropriate size and role of the federal government, related to education, Governor McDonnell said, “The president and I agree on expanding the number of high-quality charter schools and rewarding teachers for excellent performance. More school choices for parents and students mean more accountability and greater achievement….A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her ZIP Code.” While this broad statement about common ground is true, Hill Republicans have voiced concerns about how Race to the Top has forced the hand of state and local education policymakers—unnecessary federal intervention, in their opinion.


More detail on the President’s proposals will be included in his FY 2011 budget proposal, which will be released Monday. Education advocates know to expect a request for an addition $1.35 billion for the Race to the Top program, but they are also bracing for some proposed program eliminations, since the White House has indicated that while education may not be subject to the budget-wide spending freeze, some of the proposed reallocations could upset some stakeholders.

Administration material on the 2010 State of the Union can be found at, the text of the address can be found

Also, as part of the White House efforts around the Address, each cabinet secretary was asked to do a video update of their efforts in the past year and provide some thoughts on the coming year. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s piece is available at

SOTU Memo 2010.doc0 bytes
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