LAS VEGAS — In a school district with the nation’s largest class sizes, President Obama blasted Republican Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut education funding, accusing his rival of considering teachers as nothing more than “nameless government bureaucrats.”
Obama appeared at Canyon Springs High School in Clark County, Nev., on the second day of a campaign swing focused on education. Speaking to a raucous crowd of 2,100 in the gymnasium, Obama said Romney would cut the Education Department’s budget by 20 percent, while also pushing for tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
Clark County had an average class size of 32 pupils last year, the highest among the nation’s top 20 largest school districts, and an additional 419 teachers were laid off this summer, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.
“I’ve got a question for Governor Romney: How many teachers’ jobs are worth another tax cut for millionaires and billionaires?” Obama said, prompting boos from the audience. “How many kids in Head Start are worth a tax cut for somebody like me who doesn’t need it?”
Obama’s campaign simultaneously released a new television ad hitting Romney on teacher reductions and class sizes. The Romney campaign responded that Obama’s own education secretary, Arne Duncan, has questioned whether it is wise to focus on reducing class sizes if it means budget cuts to other education programs.
“President Obama is so desperate to hold on to power that he’ll even attack policies supported by his own education secretary,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
In his jobs bill last fall, Obama pushed for new investments to hire more teachers, construction workers, firefighters and police officers. But those proposals were not approved by Congress, prompting the president to lambaste what he called an obstructionist Republican Party. Republicans have argued that Obama has not done enough to tame the federal debt and that his stimulus spending has not done enough to reduce unemployment, which stands at 8.3 percent.
The audience began to boo when Obama said congressional Republicans had blocked his bill, but the president cut in and said: “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t boo. Vote. That’s right. Vote.” The line prompted a huge cheer.
Obama continued and cited Romney’s vice presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.: “The Republicans in Congress, led by Congressman Ryan, joined together to block the bill that would have helped states hire and retain more teachers. And as a result, tens of thousands of teachers are not coming back to school this fall.”
As he has done in the past, Obama grew personal when he recalled his fifth-grade teacher, the late Mabel Hefty, who he credited with paying special attention to him despite his funny name and sense of isolation after having lived overseas.
“She made me feel like I had something to say, and that I had some talent,” Obama said. “A great teacher can change the trajectory of a child’s life.”
A short time later, Obama was interrupted by a heckler who yelled in the rear of the gym, before being quickly escorted out by law enforcement authorities.
As the crowd tried to drown out the protester out by chanting “four more years!” Obama said: “You know, that young man probably needed a good teacher. We all need it.”