In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama outlined three priorities in education—making high-quality preschool available to every child, making college more affordable, and redesigning America’s high schools. During the speech, he highlighted P-Tech, an early college high school in Brooklyn, where students graduate with both a diploma and an associate’s degree in a field related to computers or engineering. On October 25, Obama visited P-Tech to advocate for those three priorities, but he added a fourth—bringing high-speed internet to schools and libraries. (Click the image to watch video of Obama’s speech.)
“We should give every student access to the world’s information,” Obama said. “When I went into the classroom today, young people were working off computers, and the problem is a lot of places, even if they’ve got computers, they’re not hooked up to wireless. So what we’re doing is having the federal agencies moving forward on a plan to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed internet within five years.”
Obama also called on the U.S. Congress to pass a budget that invests in education. “A budget … tells us what we think is important, what our priorities are,” Obama said. “If we don’t set the right priorities now, then many of [our students] will be put at a competitive disadvantage compared to other countries … and the question can’t just be how much more we can cut, it’s got to be how many more schools like P-TECH we can create. That should be our priority.”
Later in the speech, Obama pressed even harder on the importance of investing in education and drew a contrast to the recent government shutdown. “After the manufactured crisis that Congress—actually, a small group in the House of Representatives—just put us through, shutting down the government and threatening to potentially default on our debt, I don’t want to hear the same old stuff about how America can’t afford to invest in the things that have always made us strong,” Obama said. “Don’t tell me we can afford to shut down the government, which cost our economy billions of dollars, but we can’t afford to invest in our education system. Because there’s nothing more important than this.”
Near the end of the speech, Obama mentioned a conversation he had with Leslieanne John, an eleventh-grade student at P-Tech who has already taken eight college classes and plans to be a lawyer.
“Leslieanne is clear-eyed about the challenges that the students here face,” Obama said. “She put it in a way that a lot of people can relate to. She said, ‘We see a whole bunch of craziness going on in the streets of Crown Heights sometimes.’ But she also said that being here at P-Tech taught her something important: ‘There’s more for us than just the streets. At the end of the day, we’ve got to make something of ourselves.’
“That’s a message worth sending to Washington,” Obama said. “No more games, no more gridlock, no more gutting the things that help America grow, and give people the tools to make something of themselves. That’s what this is about.”