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The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation.  The interactive site brings daily news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.
dream act supporters in front of the white house Supporters of the DREAM Act take part in a demonstration in front of the the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June, 29, 2011. (Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Ladders of Opportunity

White House says immigration and education reform key to strong economy

By Hannah Prensky | null null , null

A few days after President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union Address, the White House organized a briefing for online journalists. During the meeting, held on February 15, senior administration officials elaborated on some of the most important points of the President's plan.

White House representatives talked about "ladders of opportunity." This is a metaphor for the President's strategy to provide means for people to move up into the middle class and stay there. Each rung of the ladder is a different program, including education, immigration reform, and economic security.

Education

One of the most important rungs on the President's ladder of opportunity is education.

"A strong educated class is a big driver of developing a stronger economy and ladder upward to a stronger middle class," explained Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy.

White House officials reiterated President Obama's plan to help children from cradle to college. The administration's goal is to provide free education to kids at the earliest possible age.

This strategy has bipartisan support, they said.

"For every dollar we spend on pre-school we save $7 down the road," explained Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council. "At the moment, fewer than three in 10 children have access to high quality pre-school."

The White House also acknowledged the need to modernize the entire education system, with an emphasis on high school.

"We need to create real world experiences that will help students in college and their jobs," said Rodriguez.

Immigration

More than 11 million people are in America illegally. In his State of the Union speech, President Obama said it was time to reform the nation's immigration system and bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows.

"We have to bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable — businesses for who they hire, and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law," the President said during the State of the Union Address.

kid reporter hannah prensky in a white house briefing room
Kid Reporter Hannah Prensky in a White House briefing room before the start of the online media briefing on Obama Administration policies regarding education, immigration, and the economy. (Photo courtesy Hannah Prensky)

He also proposed a four-step plan to fix the nation's broken immigration system: strengthen border security, streamline legal immigration, offer undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, and crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Muñoz told the Kids Press Corps that the President wants to encourage engineers studying in the United States to stay and work in the Unites States.

"He would like to make it easier for them to get a green card once they get a graduate degree, so that they can stay and start businesses here," Muñoz said. "This would create jobs for American workers and strengthen our economy."

Another large part of the immigration plan is to add temporary work visas and reform family legal immigration system that hasn't been updated since 1991.

Economic Security

In the end, all of the President's ideas come down to one thing: building a stronger economy. And according to the White House, the best way to do that is to maintain a strong middle class.

"The real engine driving the economy forward is the middle class," Muñoz said.

White House staff echoed the President's plan to strengthen the middle class and get people out of poverty.

One key to the plan is increasing the minimum wage and keeping down the costs of health care.

Increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour will raise families above the poverty line and help build the middle class. But while the public is behind this idea, there are strong forces that oppose the plan, according to the White House staff.

Most businesses may not be open to the minimum wage increase yet because they are still evaluating the financial impact of Obamacare. The government is hoping to provide incentives to balance the increased costs.

Sequestration

The biggest challenge to the President's plans, though, might be from the government itself.

Today, a series of mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration began. The sequester forces federal agencies to slash $85.4 billion from their budgets by September. The reason sequestration is happening is because the Democratic and Republican leaders (led by President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner) have not been able to come to an agreement on how to reduce the national deficit. (Learn more about sequestration on Scholastic News Online.)
 
The White House and Congress have pledged to continue working toward a solution that will stop these cuts from taking effect. But so far, no deal has been reached.

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