Obama called for expanding access to preschool education for 4-year-olds, and he challenged high schools to develop better curriculum for subjects such as computer science and engineering.

Laying out an ambitious post-election agenda, President Barack Obama on Feb. 12 said his goal was to reignite a “rising, thriving middle class,” in part by investing more in education.

“It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation,” said Obama in the first State of the Union address of his second term. He vowed to invest in economic growth without adding to the deficit.

While promising “balanced” deficit reduction, the president said, “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs—that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.”

In blunter terms, Obama said, “We can’t just cut our way to prosperity.”

Obama told his audience that the country was on the way back from economic crisis and recession, and that “together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis.” But, he said, “there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded.”

In his speech, the president proposed new spending on education, infrastructure, clean energy, and manufacturing. He also proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2015, up from the current $7.25; expanding access to preschool education for 4-year-olds; and challenging high schools to develop better curriculum for subjects such as computer science and engineering.

To pay for these spending increases, Obama said he would push to “save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.” He told lawmakers his proposals were “fully paid for” and wouldn’t boost the deficit.

“It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth,” Obama said.

As expected, much of Obama’s speech centered on creating jobs, with the national unemployment rate at a still-high 7.9 percent. To that end, he proposed creating a national network of manufacturing institutes, picking up on a pilot program launched in Youngstown, Ohio, last summer.

That program would use $1 billion in federal funding to leverage matching money from companies, colleges, and nonprofit organizations to help manufacturing companies compete with new technology and know-how.

(Next page: More details about the president’s speech—and reaction from Republicans)