President Obama wants Head Start programs to compete for funding

WASHINGTON (AP) - Targeting accountability, President Barack Obama wants struggling Head Start programs to compete for federal funding instead of automatically receiving it, as a way to boost quality in the preschool centers.

Obama was to travel to suburban Philadelphia on Tuesday to meet with students and teachers at a Head Start center and discuss more ways the White House can unilaterally try to improve education. The president has highlighted a number of executive actions on housing, college loans and veterans in recent weeks as a way of bypassing Congress.

Obama has sought to draw contrasts with congressional Republicans who largely have blocked his jobs agenda. He expressed frustration that Congress had not acted to revise the No Child Left Behind law, so he told states they could seek waivers from some of the law's unpopular requirements. As part of his jobs agenda, Obama has urged lawmakers to support the hiring or re-hiring of 400,000 educators, a measure that has been blocked in Congress.

The federal government's Head Start program provides preschool for 900,000 low-income children. In an attempt to improve quality, Obama plans to require all lower-performing Head Start programs that fail to meet a new set of benchmarks to compete for continued federal funding.

Officials estimate about one-third of the Head Start programs will need to re-compete for funding. White House officials said the president planned to discuss his education efforts at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia.

To bolster early childhood development, the administration created a $500 million federal grant competition for early learning programs for low income children. Thirty-five states have applied for the administration's Early Learning Challenge and the money is expected to be awarded next month.

Pennsylvania is expected to be a major prize in the 2012 presidential election and draw considerable attention from both Obama and his Republican challenger next year.