President Obama continued to hammer what he’s called the “do-nothing Republican Congress” on Tuesday, accusing Republicans of trying “to gut investments in education” as he laid out the next in his series of executive actions aimed at education reform and job creation.
“After trying for months to work with Congress on education reform, we decided to take it into our own hands,” Obama said at a Head Start educational facility in Yeadon, Penn.
“If Congress continues only to stand for dysfunction and delay, I’m going to move ahead without them,” he said.
The administration’s latest executive action will change the incentive structure for the government’s Head Start program, which provides pre-school education to almost one million low-income children. The Obama plan will require Head Start educators that don’t meet certain benchmarks to compete with other organizations for federal funds, an incentive the White House believes will improve the quality of the program.
“This is the first time in history the Head Start programs will be truly held accountable for performance in a classroom,” Obama said. “Raising the bar isn’t always an easy thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.”
The changes to the Head Start program are similar to the administration’s previous incentive-based education policies. Next month, Obama’s Race to the Top competition will award $500 million in federal grants to states with the highest performing early childhood education programs.
On Tuesday, Obama also criticized Republican opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy, saying “nearly every Republican” voted to cut funding to Head Start, cut Pell grants for college, and block a portion of his jobs bill that the administration says would put 400,000 teachers and first responders back to work.
“Their argument is that we don’t have the money,” Obama said. “But we can ask those who make more than $1 million a year to pay a little more in taxes – not right now, but starting in 2013.”
Education reform has been the focus of the Obama administration in recent weeks. In September, the president said he would waive the most controversial aspects of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, and the president has argued that these measures are closely linked to job creation.
“People understand this outside of Washington,” Obama said. “Which is why we’ve been able to work with Democratic and Republican governors on education reform to help our children from the cradle to the career.”
In October, Senate Republicans voted in unison to block Obama’s American Jobs Act. Senate Republicans also voted to filibuster a scaled-back piece of the bill aimed at putting teachers and first responders back to work.
Obama said that instead of relying on Congress to pass individual pieces of his jobs bill, he would act via a series of executive actions targeting specific areas of the legislation. The administration enacted a “Know Before You Owe” program, which will cap loan payments at a percentage of income, consolidate loan payments and, in some cases, lower interest payments.
The president argued that the loan program was necessary because students are leaving college with an average of $24,000 in debt, and were having trouble finding jobs to pay back those loans. The location the president chose to unveil the changes to the Head Start program was likely a strategic one. Pennsylvania will be a key swing state for the presidential candidates in 2012, and the state’s 20 electoral votes will be especially critical to Obama’s reelection chances.
A recent USA Today-Gallup poll showed GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Rick Perry either leading or within striking distance of the president in the 12 states it identified as toss-ups.