WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will mark his seventh week in office on Tuesday by proposing reforms to the U.S. education system, which has one of the worst high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.
Since taking office on January 20, Obama has been working his way through his lengthy to-do list, from declaring the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq to expanding healthcare coverage and tackling climate change. At the same time his administration is battling to deal with a deepening recession.
On Tuesday it is the turn of education. Obama has repeatedly stressed the importance of a good education and warned that the United States risks losing its competitive edge in the 21st century global economy if it does not produce better-educated citizens.
Just over half Americans have only a high school diploma. In addition to the country’s poor high school drop-out rates, half of American university students drop out before completing their education.
In a speech to the U.S. Congress last month, Obama declared these statistics were “a recipe for economic decline” and vowed to ensure that every child in the United States had access to a “complete and competitive education.”
“We know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow,” he said.
Officials said Obama will deliver the speech to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Tuesday and would lay out how his administration plans to improve education from “cradle to career.”
They said he would challenge U.S. states to adopt more rigorous standards of education, especially in reading and math. He would also explain how he plans to reward good teachers, redesign federal aid programs for students, and turn around underperforming schools.
Obama will note the large gap between the best and worst performing states with respect to reading and math, the administration officials said in a briefing.
Obama, however, is not proposing to make it compulsory for states to raise education standards and will rely instead on boosting education spending in several areas, including early childhood education, to achieve the desired results.
Including $81 billion set aside for education in the $787 billion economic stimulus package, Obama plans to nearly triple spending on education in the 2010 fiscal year, which begins on October 1.
That would mean the Education Department’s budget for next year would total $127.8 billion, up from $46.2 billion in 2009.
Obama has also proposed sharply increasing spending on healthcare and social programs in his $3.5 trillion budget for 2010, drawing fire from Republicans.
Editing by Chris Wilson