This piece comes to us courtesy of The Hechinger Report's HechingerEd blog.

In the first presidential debate Wednesday night, President Obama and Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney immediately dove into an often neglected topic on the campaign trail: education.

The issue came up early and often, starting when both candidates mentioned education in their opening statements. Obama called for increased investment in public schools; Romney said the U.S. needs to have "the best schools in the world."

Obama repeatedly hammered on the idea that he has supported education spending, while charging that Romney would reduce resources for schools in a quest to reduce the deficit. To emphasize his point, Obama told the story of a Las Vegas teacher who had 42 students in her classroom for the first two weeks of school and 10-year-old textbooks to teach them with.

"That is not a recipe for growth," Obama said. "Budgets reflect choices. And if we're asking for no revenue, that means we've got to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff. And the magnitude of the tax cuts that you're talking about, Governor, would end up resulting in severe hardship for people, but more importantly would not help us grow."

Romney rejected Obama's claim that he would cut education spending by 20 percent if elected - a figure extrapolated from his running mate Paul Ryan's proposed budget - and decrease aid for college students. "I don't have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college," Romney said. "I'm not planning on making changes there."

In the past, Romney has discussed making the U.S. Department of Education a "heck of a lot smaller," although he has not specified what programs would be eliminated. During the debate, Romney called for getting rid of inefficient federal programs in all areas.

"I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" he said. One item on the chopping block would be federal subsidies to PBS, even though Romney said he loves Big Bird and likes the debate's moderator and PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer.

Obama countered that he has ended 18 educational programs that were "well-intentioned [but] weren't helping kids learn."

The impact of teacher layoffs also came up, as Obama suggested that Romney would preside over more reductions in the teaching force. Obama's stimulus package saved or created 250,000 teaching jobs, but there still have been hundreds of thousands of teachers laid off during his administration. Obama proposed an additional $30 billion to save nearly 400,000 teacher jobs in 2011, but the bill never passed. "Romney doesn't think we need more teachers. I do," Obama said. "That is an investment where the federal government can help. It can't do it all, but it can make a difference."

Romney disagreed with that characterization. "I love great schools," he said, noting that when he was governor of Massachusetts the state had the highest-ranked school system in the country. "And the key to great schools, great teachers. So I reject the idea that I don't believe in great teachers or more teachers. Every school district, every state should make that decision on their own."

One of the few ideas the candidates said they agreed on over the course of the night was Race to the Top, Obama's signature education program that prompted 46 states to adopt education reforms in a competition for federal funds. The Democrats largely ignored the initiative at the Democratic National Convention, but Obama mentioned it three times during the debate.

Romney said he agreed with "some" of the ideas in Race to the Top. But he took the opportunity to promote his own school choice platform, which would allow federal funds to follow special needs and low-income students to the school of their choice, whether public or private. There is no guarantee, however, that a school would have to accept them.

Obama tried to paint Romney as out of touch when it came to education, though, particularly higher education.

"Governor Romney, I genuinely believe cares about education," Obama said. "But when he tells a student that, you know, 'you should borrow money from your parents to go to college,' you know, that indicates the degree to which, you know, there may not be as much of a focus on the fact that folks like myself, folks like Michelle ... just don't have that option."

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  • President Barack Obama shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

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    US President Barack Obama arrives on stage October 3, 2012 for the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney make their way to their lecterns October 3, 2012 after shaking hands for the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wave October 3, 2012 after shaking hands as he arrives on stage for the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) speaks during the first presidential debate with US President Barack Obama (R) October 3, 2012 at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US First Lady Michelle Obama (2nd-L) listens as US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama (L) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finish their debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shake hands October 3, 2012 at the conclusion of the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama (R) kisses First Lady Michelle Obama in Denver, Colorado, on October 3, 2012 at the end of the first presidential debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney share a laugh October 3, 2012 at the conclusion of the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shake hands October 3, 2012 at the conclusion of the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney share a laugh October 3, 2012 at the conclusion of the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney walk towards their wifes October 3, 2012 at the conclusion of the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listen as moderator Jim Leherer speaks October 3, 2012 during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney look down October 3, 2012 during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (top) speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (bottom) at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to moderator Jim Lehrer during his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama (2n-L) and First Lady Michelle Obama (L) join Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (2nd-R) and his family at the conclusion of the first presidential debate on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, greet the audience after his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama gestures on stage following his debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican challenger Mitt Romney (L) participate in their first debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama (R) and US First Lady Michelle Obama (C) walk on stage before Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following their first debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) arrive for the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stands with his wife Ann and family following the first presidential debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stands with his wife Ann following the first presidential debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican challenger Mitt Romney shake hands following their first debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican challenger Mitt Romney (L) participate in their first debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney participate in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool, Rick Wilking)

  • President Barack Obama smiles at moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney participate in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool, Rick Wilking)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney participate in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney participate in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney participate in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool, Rick Wilking)

  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney participate in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)