Moorseville, North Carolina (CNN) - President Obama took his second term agenda to North Carolina on Thursday to announce a new initiative aimed at increasing high-speed internet in the nation's schools. Speaking at Mooresville Middle School 30-minutes outside Charlotte, Obama heralded internet technology as a crucial part of improving the U.S. education system.
"What we're going to be able to do is to get companies to compete to create affordable digital devices designed specifically to these new connected classrooms," Obama said. "I want to see a tablet that's the same price as a textbook. I want to see more apps that can be instantly updated with academic content the day it's available, so you don't have old outdated textbooks with student names still in 'em from years ago."
The announcement is part of the president's Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour, as evidenced by posters flanking the president in the school's gymnasium, and aims to expand high-speed internet access to 99-percent of schools in the next five years.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan briefed reporters flying with the president aboard Air Force One and said technological advancements in schools are about more than education.
"This to me is really about economic competitiveness," Duncan said. "This is the norm in countries like South Korea; this has already happened. And as a country, I keep asking the question educationally - are we going to be a leader or are we going to be a laggard?"
Duncan said he brought the idea to the president because he'd seen it work in cities around the globe. Currently, virtually every school in the U.S. has access to the internet, Duncan said, but "the average school has less bandwidth than the average home," and slow internet speeds are "putting our students at a competitive disadvantage."
The Obama administration said it hopes the Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission will be able to use existing funds to help pay for the new initiative, but it will be up to the FCC to determine a budget for the program.
Mooresville was selected to host the announcement because of its reputation as a digital-conversion district. The 5,500-student Mooresville Graded School District distributes one laptop to each student beginning in the fourth grade, and then trains teachers to incorporate technology into lessons to create a predominantly digital curriculum.
"At this school, this has only been going on for a few years, but so far the results have been remarkable," the president told the crowd full of middle school students, teachers and administrators. "Graduation rates are up. Last year out of 115 school districts in North Carolina, you ranked in the bottom 10 in the amount of money you spend per student, but you ranked number two in student achievement."
Emphasizing its focus on technology, the district's logo is a laptop with a large 'M' in the middle. The district's superintendent Dr. Mark Edwards won 2013 Superintendent of the Year and wrote a book entitled Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement.