Tonight President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address, where he will reflect on the incredible progress made during the past seven years of his administration and lay out an ambitious agenda for his final year in office. It's a chance for us as a nation to reflect, to appreciate how far we've come, and to look seriously at what we need to accomplish in the months ahead.
I look back on January 20th, 2009 with great pride as an American, as a father of two beautiful babies, as an education and civil rights advocate, as a Democrat, and as a black man. Watching an African American get sworn into our highest office was nothing short of historic, and he carried with him the promise of a hopeful nation desperately looking for change in the midst of two wars and the worst financial crisis since the great depression.
While I'm sure the weight of America's high expectations was crushing at times, I can safely say that President Obama will end his time in office with one of the greatest and enduring legacies in modern times. From domestic policy, to international relations, to climate change and the economy - President Obama's tenure has been tremendously successful.
But the one thing that makes me most proud to call him my President is his tireless commitment to improving the quality of public education for every child in every corner of this country. It's been a truly progressive education reform agenda that put the needs of kids first, fearlessly taking on a broken status quo in the face of incredible odds and heavy political headwinds.
True change and meaningful progress isn't easy, but this administration hasn't backed down from the challenge. From K-12 to higher education, President Obama has driven billions of dollars back into our classrooms, strengthened standards and accountability, addressed racial and socio-economic inequities, and started to reverse the troubling trend of American students falling behind their international peers.
As a result, we've seen record graduation rates, more high-quality public school options that empower parents to send their child to the best school that fits their needs, and substantive benchmarks that allow parents to measure progress and success - just to name a few.
It is the dual investment in unprecedented resources coupled with common sense policy reforms that truly sets President Obama's education agenda apart. This powerful combination has helped our students, our educators, and our schools and has created a framework for moving forward and creating a system that works for all families.
Unprecedented Resource Investment
- Record investment in K-12 education. Under the American Recovery and Investment Act, President Obama invested $100 billion in education, from Pre-K through college, the largest single investment of any President in history. One in eight Recovery Act dollars devoted was to education, more than any other domestic policy area.
Common Sense Policy Reforms
- Raising standards for schools through Race to the Top. Race to the Top linked increased funding with meaningful reforms that raised standards and increased accountability - from lifting caps on the number of public charter schools, to teacher evaluation based in part on K-12 student achievement, to new data systems.
While all of this looks good on paper, the true measure of success is what these changes have helped our kids and our schools achieve. The results are undeniable - here's a sampling of the impact that President Obama's education legacy is having on our students:
- Over 400 new public charter schools have been created under the Replication and Expansion for High-Quality Charter Schools Program, for a projected total of 278,000 new high-quality seats. 82% of students enrolled in these high-performing public charters are low-income and 90% are students of color.
In seven short years, and with one more to go, the progress that President Obama and his team have accomplished is both stunning and inspiring. I couldn't be prouder that he has carried on the Democratic Party's legacy of fighting for kids, fighting for social justice, fighting for the voiceless and the disinherited.
Access to a quality education is the civil rights issue of our time, and this President, our first African American president, has had the courage to take it on and make an enormous difference in the lives of millions of American schoolchildren - especially students of color and those coming from the nation's poorest districts.
But, this fight is not over and is not likely to be any time soon. There's still much more to be done to ensure that every child in this country gets the high-quality education they deserve. As we face an important election this fall, our next president must be ready to build on this hard-won progress and continue to work day in and day out on behalf of our students. The American people get it - they're on the side of these progressive, common sense education reforms that get results, and come November let's all make our voices heard loud and clear.
Looking at my own children, looking at the scores of brilliant kids running around my neighborhood in Newark, I know to my core that there's too much at stake to sit by and do nothing. We've been blessed with bold and transformative leadership in President Obama, and our kids deserve nothing less of their future leaders. I can't wait to turn on my television with the rest of you tonight to hear what President Obama has in store for the final 12 months of this historic administration.