ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan kicked off a four-state, back-to-school bus tour in New Mexico on Monday with discussions about early childhood education and efforts to turn around schools where students have been languishing.
Duncan told a crowd of school officials, teachers, parents and union leaders that the country is at a fork in the road.
"We have a set of folks, myself and the president included, who think education is an investment. It's the best investment we can make. ... But every time I go testify over at Congress, there is a set of folks who are telling me education is an expense and we should be cutting back."
Less access to early-childhood education programs such as Head Start, fewer afterschool and summer programs, bigger class sizes and fewer affordable options for college are hurting the country, Duncan said.
"Are we going to educate our way to a better economy or are we going to cut back?" he asked. "We need pressure across the political spectrum on political leaders to invest in education."
Duncan will also be visiting Texas, Arizona and California this week. The goal, he said, is to hear firsthand what is working and what isn't.
Duncan started his tour in Santa Fe and then headlined a round-table discussion at Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque, a school that saw significant improvements in math and reading after a $1 million effort by Albuquerque Public Schools to bring in teachers certified to work with students whose first language is not English.
Emerson did not receive any federal funding for its turn-around efforts, but officials said the federal government has awarded up to $2 million per school to improve more than 1,300 schools nationwide. Duncan said the administration has asked for $650 million to continue the effort.
The Obama administration also has plans for spending $75 billion over 10 years to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds in the U.S.