President pitches pre-k expansion in Nashville visit (and link to transcript)

President Barack Obama pushed his plan for expanding early childhood education during his visit to McGavock High School this afternoon and praised Nashville and Tennessee for the educational gains both have made, according to The Tennessean.

“I wanted to come here today because I heard great things about this high school and all of you,” Obama said to a boisterous crowd in the school’s auditorium.

“If Nashville can bring schools, teachers, business and parents together for the sake of our young people, then other places can,” Obama added.

Nashville was the president’s final stop in a two-day, post-State of the Union tour of the nation. Earlier Thursday, he visited General Electric’s Waukesha Gas Engines plant near Milwaukee, Wis., and on Wednesday toured a steel mill near Pittsburgh and a Costco in Maryland.

Air Force One touched down at Berry Field at 3:41 p.m. and a presidential motorcade whisked the president to McGavock. He met briefly with former Vice President Al Gore and the family of Kevin Barbee, a 15-year-old student who was killed earlier this week.

Obama entered the McGavock High School auditorium to a loud ovation at 4:49 p.m. after the school’s student body president, Ronald Elliott, introduced him.

Obama recognized Elliott, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Democratic U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen and Gore. He then mentioned the student struck down on Tuesday night.

“I also recognize the past couple of days have been hard. Some of you have lost a good friend,” Obama said. “It has been heartbreaking.”

He said he and the First Lady are praying for the community.

…Tennessee and McGavock were selected for today’s speech in part because of the education reform efforts underway here.

Tennessee was the first state to win Obama’s Race to the Top competition in 2010. And McGavock is among the top schools in the state for student growth and has combined college-preparatory courses with work- and project-based learning.

Obama said the nation must guarantee “every young person access to a world-class education.”

He said there have been successes, citing rising graduation rates and declining dropout rates. He specifically praised Tennessee and Nashville for the efforts underway here. That includes proposals for expanding pre-K in Metro schools.

“You have made huge strides in helping young people learn the skills they need for a new economy,” Obama said.

Note: The transcript of the presidential speech in Nashville is HERE.