In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president said nothing is "more important to our country's future than the education we give our kids." He said most teachers "work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies -- just to make a difference. They give everything for our kids -- and in return, we should invest in them."
However, Obama noted more than 300,000 education jobs have been lost since 2009, due in part to state and local budget cuts.
"At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America; these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year," the president said.
"That's the opposite of what we should be doing as a country," he said. "States should be making education a priority in their budgets, even in tough fiscal times. And Congress should be willing to help out -- because this affects all of us."
Obama said Congress has not acted on a jobs bill he proposed in September that provided support for states "to prevent further layoffs and to rehire teachers who'd lost their jobs."
"In fact, the economic plan that almost every Republican in Congress voted for would make the situation even worse," the president said. "It would actually cut funding for education -- which means fewer kids in Head Start, fewer teachers in our classrooms, and fewer college students with access to financial aid -- all to pay for a massive new tax cut for millionaires and billionaires.
"That's backwards," he said. "That's wrong. That plan doesn't invest in our future; it undercuts our future."