REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON HEAD START
11:43 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody, please have a seat. It is great to be in Yeadon, great to be in the Philly area. I was told not to mention football at all. (Laughter.) So I’m not going to say anything about football while I’m here, because I know this is a sensitive subject. (Laughter.) This is why I have Secret Service along. (Laughter.)
Now, I want to start by acknowledging some of the folks who are with me here today. First of all, I want to thank one of our finest public servants in this country, and she’s just a great friend, but somebody who cares passionately about the health and the welfare of our kids and our families — Kathleen Sebelius, our Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Applause.) I want to acknowledge the Mayor of Yeadon — Dolores Jones-Butler is in the house. (Applause.) Two of my favorite members of Congress, Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady. (Applause.) And one of my favorite former members of Congress who I think is going to be doing big things here in Pennsylvania is here as well — I guess I can’t call you Congressman, huh? (Laughter.) That’s all right? The — Congressman Murphy. (Applause.)
I had a chance to say hello to Mayor Nutter when I landed in Philly. He couldn’t be with us this morning — I guess there are a few things going on here today. (Laughter.) But I wished him well. He’s a great partner of ours.
And I also want to say thank you to Ms. Pleasantte, Dr. O’Shea — (applause) — all the staff and the teachers who are here. They are just doing a great job. (Applause.)
I had a chance to visit one of the classrooms here. And I have to say, it got me a little choked up, because — Patrick, you need to remember this. Patrick has got small kids. And they are just so huggable at this age. (Laughter.) And now — they’re still huggable, but they’re a little — they’re 5’9” and five feet. (Laughter.) But obviously you got a lot to handle when you’re here.
And the teachers, the staff who are here, they wouldn’t be doing this for the money. They’re doing it out of love of children. All of you do it because you know that when it comes to learning and when it comes to growing, this is an absolutely critical period in a child’s life. 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. And so this makes early education one of our best investments in America’s future. One of the best. (Applause.)
Right out of the gate, it helps prepare our kids for a competition that’s never been tougher — a competition for good middle-class, well-paying jobs. And we’re competing now with countries like China and South Korea and Europe, all of which are serious about educating their children. So at a time when a company is able to move anywhere they want in the world — and a lot of times will make the decision based on where they can find the most highly skilled workforce — it is absolutely imperative that we make sure the United States is the place where we’ve got the best-trained, best-educated young people. That is a priority. (Applause.)
And this is not, and should not be, a Democratic priority or a Republican priority. This is an American priority. (Applause.) It’s an economic imperative. Our future depends on it. And people understand this outside of Washington, which is why we’ve been able to work with Democratic and Republican governors on our efforts to strengthen education from cradle to career. Not only with more money — money is important — but also with reforms that challenge schools to develop higher standards and the best practices for teaching and for learning.
Now, unfortunately, in Congress right now, it’s a different story. The Republicans in Washington have been trying to gut our investments in education. 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.
Their argument is that we don’t have the money. And what I’ve said is we can make these investments in our children without adding to the deficit simply by asking people who make more than a million dollars a year to pay a little more in taxes — not right now, but starting in 2013. It’s the right thing to do for our kids. It’s the right thing to do for our country. But so far they’ve said no.
It’s not just on issues, by the way, that cost money. So far, Congress has failed to move on fixing No Child Left Behind, despite the fact that we’ve shown them bipartisan reforms that are working in states right now — reforms that are praised not only by Democrats but also by Republicans. So 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.
We can’t wait to make sure that our schools give every child the chance to compete with young people from around the world. So in September, I announced that if states exceed the high standards set by No Child Left Behind, then they’ve got the flexibility to build on the reforms that they’ve already made. We can’t wait to help more young people get to college. So two weeks ago, I announced changes that will lower student loan payments by hundreds of dollars a month for around 1.6 million Americans. (Applause.)
We can’t wait to give more of our youngest children the same basic opportunities we want all children to have, that we want for our children. And that’s why today, I’m announcing a new rule that will improve the quality of Head Start programs around the country. (Applause.)
Now, I firmly believe that Head Start is an outstanding program and a critical investment. The children who have the chance to go to the best Head Start programs have an experience that can literally change their lives for years to come. We’re making today’s announcement because we believe that every child in Head Start deserves that same chance.
Now, under the old rules governing Head Start, there just wasn’t enough accountability. 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. (Applause.)
If a group is going to do a better job for the community, then they need that support. If a group would do a better job serving the kids in our communities, then they’re going to have that chance.
Now, this is the first time in history that Head Start programs will be truly held accountable for performance in the classroom, and we know that raising the bar isn’t always an easy thing to do. But it’s the right thing to do. Children in Head Start deserve the best services we have to offer, and we know that Head Start programs can meet this challenge.
So because of this rule, and the other executive actions that we’ve taken to improve our education system, more children will have the chance to study hard, do well in school, graduate on time, go to college without crushing debt. More Americans will grow up to be scientists and innovators and engineers and entrepreneurs. More businesses will be able to find skilled workers.
Of course, there’s no substitute for Congress doing its job. And I have to say these two congressmen are doing their job. (Applause.) But they need some help. Congress still needs to fix No Child Left Behind. Congress still needs to put teachers back in the classroom where they belong. (Applause.)
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. (Applause.) 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.
I think this is the right thing to do, not just as a President, but I think this is the right thing to do as a parent. Because I know there are some things I cannot guarantee my kids. But I can make sure — I can do my best to make certain that they get a chance to succeed or fail on their own merits, just like I did. I can do everything in my power to ensure that their children grow up in a country where anything is possible, as long as you’re willing to work for it.
That’s what my mom and my grandparents wanted for me. It’s what I want for my children. It’s the promise that every generation has made to those who came after.
We can’t be the first generation of Americans to break that promise. 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.
That’s what’s being done at this wonderful facility. We want to replicate these all across the country. We are proud of what you are doing. You’ve got a President who’s got your back
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.