Obama to governors: Spend your budgets on education

President Obama on Monday implored the nation's governors to spend their budgets on education and job training -- and offered a retort to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who called the president a "snob" about college education.

Speaking to the National Governors Association, which was spending the last day of its annual meeting at the White House, the president challenged the chief executives to spend more on students.

"Too many states are making cuts that I think are too big," the president said. "Budgets are by choice, so today I'm calling on all of you: invest more in education, invest more in our children.".

Saying other countries are doubling down on education while the states are cutting teachers, Obama argued students should be required to stay in school longer -- only 21 states require students to stay in high school until they graduate or until they are 18. 

"Twenty-one states (require that)," he said. "That means 29 don't."

He added that more training is needed to prepare high school graduates to get into higher education, whether it's traditional universities or advanced training for technical jobs where workers will be asked to operate million-dollar machinery.

"They can't go in there unless they've got some basic training beyond what they received in high school," Obama said.

Obama also took what appeared to be a shot at Santorum, who over the weekend said that Obama was being a "snob" for insisting on four-year higher education degrees.

"President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob," Santorum said. "There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor to try to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college he wants to remake you in his image," Santorum said.

On Sunday, Santorum stood by his argument that the president is a "snob" for assuming every student will go on to a classical education, saying that some kids are better suited for alternative classrooms.

"If going to a trade school and learning to be a carpenter or a plumber or other types of skills -- that are artist or whatever the case may be or a musician. All of those things are very important and worthwhile professions that we should not look down our nose at and say they are somehow less because you didn't get a four-year college degree," he told NBC.

On Monday, the president did not reference Santorum, but made his position clear.

"I have to make a point here: When I speak about higher education, we're not just talking about a four-year degree," the president said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested Obama was not speaking directly to Santorum's argument. 

"As regards the specific issue that I understand Senator Santorum raised ... the president is focused not just on making sure that higher education is not a luxury, but that it is available for everyone," he said.

At the NGA meeting, the president, citing his and first lady Michelle Obama's personal benefits from scholarship and aid programs, said state budget cuts "have been among the largest factors for tuition hikes" at colleges and universities. 

"We can't allow higher education to be a luxury in this country. It's an economic imperative that every family in America has to be able to afford. And frankly, I don't think any of this should be a partisan issue," he said.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who has clashed with Obama on immigration and other issues, said she supported the message.

"In Arizona, we're going to implement basically the things he talked about. That is one area we agree on," Brewer said afterward.

But Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said while he agreed with many of Obama's views on education, the president's policies on taxes, spending and energy keep him at arm's length.

"I walked into the meetings today believing we need a conservative in the White House and I left the meetings continuing to believe that," Jindal said.