By Samson Reiny
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed $80 million in new government funding for a program to boost science and math education in U.S. schools.
Obama, who is running for re-election in November at a time when the economy is voters' top concern, has sought to emphasize math and science education as one of the keys to a robust economic recovery.
Many U.S. business leaders have complained that a shortage of workers with strong math and science skills has forced them to look abroad.
Hosting a group of middle school and high school students whose prize-winning science-fair projects were on display at the White House, Obama said: "What these young people are doing is going to make a bigger difference in the life of our country over the long term than just about anything."
Before he spoke, Obama inspected the exhibits sprawled about several rooms on the ground floor. During one exchange, he helped eight-grader Joey Hudy of Phoenix launch his Extreme Marshmallow Cannon, which shot a sugary morsel at the wall of the State Dining Room.
The aim of the new proposed funding is to train 100,000 specialized teachers, who Obama said would help to "meet an ambitious goal, which is 1 million more American graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math over the next 10 years."
Obama will formally unveil the request in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 that he will present on February 13. The request requires approval from the U.S. Congress.
In addition to the government funds Obama is proposing, the president said philanthropic organizations and private companies have committed to providing $22 million to help train new math and science teachers.
Organizations involved in the effort include the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Freeport-McMoRan and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Eric Beech)