Obama rolls out education plan during S.C. stop

COLUMBIA -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama praised South Carolina on Tuesday for its high education standards but said more resources are needed to truly improve schools.

Part of the fix would be an $18 billion-per-year early childhood and K-12 education plan Obama rolled out Tuesday. Funding would come from cuts in other federal programs.

"South Carolina should be proud that they've set high standards," Obama said in a news conference with S.C. media Tuesday. "They've set standards as high as almost anywhere in the country ... (but) you have to make sure you're following through with the resources."

Highlights of Obama's plan include-

• Reforming the No Child Left Behind Act by making standardized tests just one of several tools used to assess students' and schools' performance

• Investing heavily in programs for children from birth to 5 years old by increasing Early Head Start funding and offering incentives to states to provide proven early education programs

• Creating a teacher career ladder including a mentoring program. Veteran teachers would be financially compensated for mentoring teachers with less experience. Also, teachers could be financially rewarded for becoming nationally board certified or learning additional skills.

This early childhood and K-12 plan would tie into a post-high school program that includes $4,000 refundable tax credits for students who attend public colleges.

"Barack and I just paid off our student loans," said Michelle Obama, Barack Obama's wife, to a crowd Tuesday at Dreher High School in Columbia.

The loans were paid off thanks to Barack Obama's two best-selling novels, she said, noting that too many families don't have such an option and the country's education system must be changed.

Dreher High School student Jean Smith, 17, who plans to be a teacher, said she hopes to be able to vote for Obama next November and likes his plan to provide scholarships to college students who agree to teach in a high-needs school for at least four years.

"That's actually the type of teaching I want to do," Smith said. "I want to teach where it'll make a difference."