November 8th, 2011
02:39 PM ET
YEADON, PA (CNN) - While visiting a Head Start program in a suburb of Philadelphia today, President Obama took yet another step in his ongoing efforts to bypass what he views as a do-nothing Congress. As part of what he is calling the “We Can’t Wait” campaign, Obama announced new benchmarks for evaluating the effectiveness of Head Start programs and a new plan to force all low-performing Head Start programs to re-compete for their federal funding.
“We know that three-and four-year-olds who go to high-quality preschools – including our best Head Start programs – are less likely to repeat a grade; they're less likely to need special education; they're more likely to graduate from high school than the peers who did not get these services,” the president said. “And so this makes early education one of our best investments in America's future.”
The federal contribution to Head Start in fiscal year 2010 was $7.2 billion, plus an additional $2.1 billion received as part of the Recovery Act. In his remarks, the president claimed that these new initiatives are aimed at making sure that this money is well-spent.
“Under the old rules governing Head Start, there just wasn't enough accountability,” Obama said. “If a program wasn't providing kids with quality services, there was no incentive to improve. Under the new rule, programs are going to be regularly evaluated against a set of clear, high standards. If a program meets these standards - and we believe the majority of Head Start programs will - then their grants will be renewed.”
“But if a program isn't giving children the support they need to be ready for school, if classrooms are unsafe, if finances aren't in order, if kids aren't learning what they need to learn, then other organizations will be able compete for that grant. We're not just going to put money into programs that don't work. We will take money and put them into programs that do,” said the president.
Framing his announcement as a substitute for Congressional inaction, the president linked the new initiative with recent steps his administration has taken to help college graduates pay back their student loans and allow states to opt out of certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law. But he also repeated his call for Congress to move beyond his new proposals and tackle these issues head on.
“Congress still needs to fix No Child Left Behind,” the president said. “Congress still needs to put teachers back in the classroom where they belong. So Congress still needs to act. But if Congress continues to stand only for dysfunction and delay, then I'm going to move ahead without them.”