Obama visits area, touts new rules for Head Start

President Barack Obama announces that Head Start programs will have to compete for funding, Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center, 743 Cobbs Creek Parkway. – ABDUL R. SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

Head Start programs nationwide will now have to compete for federal funding under new rules announced by President Barack Obama in a brief speech Tuesday in Yeadon.

“Under the old rules governing Head Start, there just wasn’t enough accountability,” said Obama, speaking at the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center. “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. We’re not just going to put money into programs that don’t work.”

New rules will force every program to be a top performer, said the president. “Every Head Start child deserves to be enrolled in an excellent program,” he said.

He spoke to a crowd of local bigwigs who applauded enthusiastically – including U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah, Bob Brady and state Sen. Anthony Williams.

Just before his announcement, Obama visited a classroom at the Head Start center.

“Hello everybody!” said Obama, entering the bright yellow room where 16 kids aged 3 to 5 were working and waiting.

“We’re going to keep playing,” their teacher said. The kids’ names were written in chalk on the blackboard, and there were colorful posters, including a “weather bear.”

One girl in the class was wearing a sparkly red T-shirt that said “Black President” and featured a silhouette of Obama’s face. She seemed worried her peers did not understand the momentousness of the occasion.

“Everybody just be quiet!” she said, to little avail.

The President started to work the room.

“Hello. How are you? Nice to see ya. What are your names?” he said, bending down to and greeting the children at the car/truck table.

A boy showed him a fire engine, and pushed a police car down the street. “Blah, blah, blah,” an excited boy babbled.

“You sound like a politician,” Obama said.

He had harsh words for the Republican politicians in Washington.

“The Republicans in Washington have been trying to gut our investments in education,” said the president. “Earlier this year, nearly every Republican in the House voted for a budget that would have cut hundreds of thousands of children from Head Start. They’ve tried to cut Pell Grants for college students. They just voted against a jobs bill that would have put 400,000 teachers back in the classroom.”

Obama has been butting heads with Republicans for months, most recently over their failure to act on his jobs bill.

“If Congress continues to stand only for dysfunction and delay, then I’m going to move ahead without them,” he said. “I told my administration, I want you to keep on looking for actions that we can take without Congress –- steps that can save consumers money, make government more efficient and responsive, help heal the economy, improve our education system, improve our health care system. We want to work with Congress, but we’re not going to wait.”

Without action, he said, the American dream – the promise that each generation would do better than the last – was at risk.

“We can’t be the first generation of Americans to break that promise,” he said. “So we’ve got to prove that we are tougher than the times that we live in and that we’re bigger than the politics of the moment. We’ve got to meet the challenges today by preparing our children for the challenges tomorrow.”

Over the objections of Republicans, Obama secured a $340 million increase in the final 2011 budget for Head Start. When Congress did not enact his proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund, the administration set aside $500 million to create a Race to the Top for early learning.

Last month 35 states applied for that funding. White House officials said the winners would be announced next month.

 

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at 215-893-5742 or emayes@phillytrib.com.

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