In his State of the Union address last night President Obama called keeping the middle class alive “the defining issue of our time.” Throughout his speech, he set out proposals to foster an economy “built to last” predicated on education, a skilled workforce, high-paying jobs, energy independence and fairness that would help bolster the middle class.
The President highlighted the skills gap that exists in industries such as manufacturing, information technology and clean energy: “Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job.” In an effort to solve this problem, he called for a national commitment to train two million individuals with the skills they need to land a job, with a focus on partnerships between businesses and community colleges. The President is scheduled to release his FY13 budget on February 13. We hope that his commitment to address the skills gap and provide resources for unemployed individuals will be reflected in his proposal for Perkins Act funding.
President Obama also focused on the current job training system, saying that he wants “to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people…have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need.” His hope is that streamlining the system will get people back to work more quickly in the jobs that exist today, and better prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. While he does not mention the Workforce Investment Act specifically, the program has been due for reauthorization since 2003 and has been top priority for the both the House and the Senate this session. Given the President’s mention of the workforce system, we are hopeful that this signals a desire to reauthorize WIA in the coming year.
The President also touched on other education issues such as high school dropouts, calling on states to require students to stay in school until graduation or until they turn 18. In terms of college access and affordability, the President urged Congress to keep student interest rates low and extend the tuition tax credit. He also asked institutions of higher education to keep costs down and was blunt in his commitment to making postsecondary education more affordable, saying, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”
Nancy Conneely, Public Policy Manager