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Lagging Head Start Centers Must Compete for Federal Funding



As part of his latest effort to show he's trying to address critical problems while Congress remains mired in partisan politics, President Barack Obama announced today his administration will require the lowest-performing Head Start providers to compete for future federal funding.

"After trying for months to work with Congress on education, we've decided to take matters into our own hands," Obama said in a news release.

The thing is, this particular Head Start matter was already in Obama's hands. Congress wasn't holding up any of it. The rules have been in the works for a few years, and it was Obama's own administration that was taking its time in turning proposed regulations into reality.

In fact, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, noted that the rules were made possible by legislation Congress passed in 2007. He said: "I am pleased the president is finally moving to enact this Republican initiative and look forward to hearing the details of his plan."

Melody Barnes, Obama's top domestic policy adviser, however, said in a conference call today that the Head Start move today is part of a broader effort to make up for the lack of "serious action" on improving education among Republicans in Congress. She hammered on Republicans for voting against Obama's jobs bill, for "slashing" Pell Grants, "refusing" to fix the flaws in NCLB in a bipartisan way, and wanting to cut funding from Head Start.

According to White House officials, the goal of the new competition is to strengthen the early-childhood services provided by the 1,600 Head Start and Early Head Start organizations that serve low-income children and families. By directing federal tax dollars to the strongest programs, the Obama administration hopes to weed out poor performers. About 1 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolers receive Head Start services a year.

As early as December, the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages Head Start, will begin notifying those that fail to meet new benchmarks and are deemed low performing. This could affect as many as one-third of providers.

Several things could trigger a provider having to compete for future funding: deficiencies uncovered during an on-site review, failing to establish and use school-readiness goals for children, or demonstrating low performance in the classroom evaluation. Other triggers include if a provider has had its license revoked, or if its federal grant has been suspended.

Every five years, providers would be evaluated to determine whether they have to compete for another grant.

Photo: President Barack Obama visits a classroom at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., on Nov. 8. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

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