Obama Pushes New Head Start Rules

President Obama announces changes to federal funding for the Head Start early education program at an event in Philadelphia.

Low-performing early education programs that provide education and other needed services to low-income students will now have to compete for needed dollars under new guidelines announced Tuesday.


Education Secretary Arne Duncan touted the changes, saying, “We have got to get out of the catch up business. If we are serious about getting out of it, and closing the achievement gap, we have no choice but to invest in early childhood learning programs that raise student performance, particularly in disadvantaged communities.”


At a Head Start Center outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, President Obama unveiled the change while blasting Congress for not moving forward with education reform.


The president said, “After trying for months to work with Congress on education, we decided to take matters into our own hands, because our future is at stake. Our children deserve action. And we can’t wait for Congress any longer.”


He added, “We can’t wait to make sure that our schools give every child the chance to compete with young people from around the world."


Previously, Head Start dollars were issued automatically, without an assessment of a program’s effectiveness. Obama said, “If a program wasn’t providing kids with quality services, there was no incentive to improve.”


During a conference call with reporters today, an Obama administration official said that incentivizing funding will promote greater accountability and ultimately improve performance.


White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes said, “Because of this rule and the other executive actions, more kids have a chance to study hard, and do well in school with the assurance they’ll have the tools they need to succeed.”


Today’s announcement is actually the result of legislation passed in 2007. Grantees now will receive funding for 5 years, and will be re-evaluated for renewal periodically. 


Although the changes are viewed as a step in the right direction, some in the administration are aware that they are only a nod to the sweeping reform the president has proposed.


Duncan said, “This is in no way a substitute to the kind of robust education reforms needed to prepare our kids to be leaders in the world."

(Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters)

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