President Obama is hardly the first to make the argument that the education of America’s youth is of vital economic importance. Since coming to office, Obama has made education reform—centered on innovation and competitiveness—a cornerstone of his administration’s focus. For example:

  1.  In 2009, the president lobbied for and secured $100 billion as part of the economic stimulus package for public pre-K, K-12, and higher education institutions;
  2. This past spring, he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan worked with Congress to deliver more than $40 billion for Pell Grants, community colleges, and minority-serving institutions; and
  3. Most recently, Duncan advocated passionately for $10 billion to assist K-12 schools in retaining educators’ jobs.

This week, during the Summit on Community Colleges at the White House, Obama stressed again that education directly impacts the economy.

Detractors of the president’s proposals in Washington rarely argue that education isn’t critical to the nation’s future, but that the federal government simply cannot afford to spend without restraint. Last month, for instance, congressional Republicans released their policy agenda called A Pledge to America that focuses on reigning in federal spending and limiting the size and scope of the federal government as a means to bolstering the economy.

Who is right? If we assume education is an economic issue, should the federal government do more or less to ensure its impact is positive?