PHILADELPHIA--President Obama announced changes to federal funding for the Head Start early education program Tuesday in an event designed to showcase not only his education record but also to attack Republican proposals to cut spending for what he believes is crucial to future job creation.
“This makes early education one of the best investment in our future, one of the best,’ Obama told a small, enthusiastic audience gathered in a small multipurpose room of the Yeadon Regional Head Start program. “We have to make sure that the United States is producing the best-educated workforce in the world. This should not be a Democratic priority or a Republican priority, but an American priority. It’s an economic imperative.”
But, the president continued, “Unfortunately, in Congress, it’s another story.”
“The Republicans in Washington are trying to gut our investments in education,” Obama said, saying that the GOP argument that there is not enough money could be resolved by raising taxes on the wealthy in 2013. “After trying for months working with Congress, we decided to take action into our own hands.”
The change Obama outlined will require low-performing public schools that receive Head Start funding to compete for that money rather than receive it automatically, as is the current rule. Administration officials said the step, while potentially threatening funds to some under-performing schools, would promote accountability in public education.
“This is about improving a program,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters aboard Air Force One. “The purpose here is to lift the quality of these programs.”
Obama’s visit to the Head Start program here included a tour of a classroom, where about 15 kids ages 3 to 5 worked with blocks, Legos, and jigsaw puzzles.
Pulling up a tiny purple chair, Obama talked toy trucks with one young boy, and commented, “You sound like a politician,” when another said in excitement, ‘Blah, blah, blah” as the president entered the room.
But his brief remarks on education, leavened with a reference to his Chicago Bears beating the Philadelphia Eagles the previous night, was also tinged with the sharpened partisan tone of his recent appearances around the country to promote his jobs bill.
The $447 billion legislation is stuck in Congress, and Obama has been warming up his 2012 reelection campaign by contrasting his willingness to act through executive action with Congress’ partisan gridlock. Some recent polls have shown a slight bounce in his approval rating since he began pushing out the message last month.
“Of course, there’s no substitute for Congress doing its job,” Obama said. “If Congress continues to stand for only dysfunction and delaying, then I’m going to move ahead without them.”
Administration officials said Obama secured a $340 million increase in Head Start funds for the current budget, despite Republican moves to cut spending on the program. Obama has been concerned about declining support from independent voters, who have questioned the quality of American public schools, and his message to voters was pointed.
To applause, Obama listed some of the steps he has taken recently to improve and encourage education, including his announcement last week to help students pay back burdensome college loans.
“We’re not going to just put money into programs that don’t work,” Obama said. “We’re going to take that money and put them in programs that do.”