During tonight’s State of the Union address, many parents were so busy putting kids to bed, packing tomorrow’s lunches, and paying bills that you may not have had time to tune in. Here’s a quick recap of President Obama’s speech (paraphrased), on a few of the topics that are important for America’s families:
[Note: This is a paraphrase of Obama's words, not mine. I'll be sure to post tomorrow on my big idea for America's future.]
On the Race to Educate Our Kids:
As many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. America is falling behind in the proportion of young people with college degrees, at a time when we need college degrees more than ever. Every child deserves a chance to succeed, and the responsibility begins in our homes and in our communities—in our families. Parents are the first to instill the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure that the TV is turned off and that homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. We need to teach kids that success is not a function of fame and PR, but hard work and discipline.
On Our Schools:
Our schools share the responsibility of educating our children. A classroom should be a place of high expectations and high performance, but too many schools don’t pass the test. The “Race to the Top” competition is changing that: All 50 states have been challenged to improve student achievement, in exchange for funding. This has been the most meaningful reform of public schools in a generation. It has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. “Race to the Top” should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. Teachers should be viewed as “nation builders,” as they are in countries like South Korea. We need to treat our teachers with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. Over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring, we need to prepare 100,000 new teachers in science, engineering and math. And to every young person listening tonight: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, become a teacher. Your country needs you.
On College and College Tuition:
The education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of everyone in America. Our government is working to make college more affordable by ending subsidies to banks and by making a permanent tuition tax credit worth $10,000 for four years of college, because “it’s the right thing to do.” Because people need to be able to train for new jobs. We also need to revitalize community colleges. Obama referenced Kathy Proctor, a mother of two who’s worked in the North Carolina furniture industry since she was 18 years old, who’s now earning a biotech degree at age 55, not just because furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams. She said: “I hope it shows them to never give up.” Obama said: “If we take these steps to give kids the best possible chance at an education, we will reach the goal that I set two years ago… by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
On Simplifying Our Taxes:
Tonight, Obama talked about simplifying the complicated tax system in order to level the playing field and to use the savings to bring down our nation’s deficit.
On Safeguarding the American People:
Obama said that he will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people. “That’s why our food is safe to eat, our water safe to drink, and our air is safe to breath.” (I might argue otherwise.) “That’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws. Why we put in place consumer protections by credit card companies, new rules to prevent another financial crisis, and rules to prevent health insurance companies from exploiting patients.”
On Health Care:
There are obviously concerns about the new health care law. Anything can be improved. If you have ideas to improve it by making care better or affordable, Obama is eager to work with you. What he’s not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition. Uninsured students should be able to stay on their parents’ coverage. Obama also suggests reforming medical malpractice laws to reign in frivolous lawsuits.
On Our Debts:
Let’s make sure that we’re not buried under a mountain of debt. We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same. (Who can argue with that?) Obama is proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years, which would bring us to the lowest deficit since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Obama acknowledges that it will be painful, and that he’s proposing cuts to things he cares deeply about, like community action programs. He says: “What we can honestly afford to do without? But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens… and let’s make sure that what we’re cutting really is excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation is like lightening an airplane by gutting the engine. It won’t be long til you feel the impact.”
On Our Retirement Options:
Obama is looking for a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations, without putting at risk retirees, or people with disabilities, without slashing benefits for future generations, and without making retirement benefits privy to the whims of the stock market. He proposes no tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans to pay for this. “Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax cuts—it’s not about punishing their success, it’s about promoting America’s success.”
On Gays in the Military, Clean Energy, Special Interests, and More:
Other topics that Obama addressed that, of course, pertain to families included investments in clean and renewable energies, reorganizing the government to make it run more efficiently, and getting rid of earmarks for special interests. Obama discussed reigning in and securing nuclear weapons, bringing troops home, and protecting the country’s borders without sacrificing the basic principles on which our democracy was founded. He spoke about gays in the military and said “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. With the change, I call on all of our college campuses to open doors to military recruiters and ROTC and to leave behind the divisive battles of the past and move forward as one nation.”
Obama discussed reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit, and the fact that none of it will be easy and that all of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything the costs, the details, the letter of every law. He said: “Of course, some countries don’t have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on earth. (I might argue that some new parents would like to trade places with parents in Sweden…more on that to come.)
Obama said: “This is a place that says you can make it if you try. We believe in the same dream that says this is a country that says anything is possible, no matter where you come from. That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight why a working class kid from Scranton (Joe Biden) can sit behind me. That dream is why someone who swept the floors of his father’s bar (John Boehner) can be Speaker of the House of the greatest nation on earth. We do big things. From the earliest days of our founding, we have been ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future. We are a nation that says ‘I may not have a lot of money or come from a family of college graduates, but I have an idea.’” Obama concluded by saying: “We do big things. The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. It’s because of our people that our journey is hopeful and the state of our union is strong.”
Did you watch the State of the Union address? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback and ideas below.