President Obama whipped a cheering crowd into a frenzy in Las Vegas on Wednesday, delivering a barnburner speech at a high school attacking Mitt Romney over education.
“I have a question for Gov. Romney,” Obama said. “How many teachers’ jobs are worth another tax cut for millionaires and billionaires?”
Obama reiterated his call for Congress to pass his American Jobs Act, which would free up federal funding to help states that have laid off teachers since the 2008 crash to start hiring again. He also touted his administration’s previous use of stimulus funds to shore up education budgets and provide incentives to statehouses to make new reforms through its Race to the Top program.
By contrast, he noted Romney and Paul Ryan have proposed discretionary spending caps that would likely demand deep cuts to federal education funding.
“Cutting back on teachers is the last thing we should be doing as a country,” Obama said. “We should be hiring more teachers, especially in areas of math and science.”
The president was briefly interrupted by a heckler, whose shouts were drowned out by chants of “Four more years!” from the crowd.
“That young man probably needed a good teacher,” Obama ad-libbed after the man was removed from the event.
Obama also attacked Romney for minimizing the importance of class size, echoing a just-released ad from his campaign.
“Gov. Romney told them that class sizes don’t matter,” Obama said. “Now there’s a lot of studies that say that class sizes do matter, especially in the early grades, but more importantly, why wouldn’t we be listening to the teachers who are actually in the classroom?”
While Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, has also suggested class size is a “sacred cow” that shouldn’t be policymakers’ top priority in managing their budgets, he’s also warned that a “skyrocket” in student/teacher ratios could be damaging. That debate aside, the Obama administration has claimed that their proposals to fund hiring more teachers would invariably help keep class sizes in check in comparison to Romney.
Update: Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg responded to Obama’s speech in a statement:
“After nearly four years, President Obama is so desperate to hold on to power that he’ll even attack policies supported by his own education secretary. The Obama economy has been deeply unfair to the next generation, burdening them with trillions in new debt and leaving half of recent graduates jobless or underemployed. Mitt Romney has a bold plan to reform our schools and provide all our young people with the skills they need to succeed. And the Romney-Ryan plan for a stronger middle class will deliver 12 million new jobs, getting young Americans - and all Americans - back to work.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.