US President Barack Obama has called on local and national politicians to make education a top priority and to stop firing teachers as a way to balance budgets.
"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 in his weekly radio and internet address.
Since 2009 the US has lost more than 300,000 education jobs, mainly because of budget cuts at the state and local levels, Obama said.
"That's the opposite of what we should be doing as a country.
"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 that last year he submitted to congress a jobs bill designed to prevent further teacher lay-offs and to rehire educators who had lost their jobs.
But the bill stalled in congress, with Republicans accusing the president of out-of-control spending.
Obama said an economic plan Republican members instead approved would make the situation worse by cutting more teacher jobs and reducing the number of college students with access to financial aid.
"That's backwards. That's wrong," the president said. "That plan doesn't invest in our future; it undercuts our future."
If Americans wanted to lead in the 21st century, he said, nothing was more important than giving everyone the best education possible.