November 8, 2011 / 5:31 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 1-Obama says early childhood education key investment

PHILADELPHIA, Nov 8 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama visited a Philadelphia pre-school on Tuesday to make his case for education reform in a state that could be important to his re-election prospects next year.

On a trip to the 2012 battleground state of Pennsylvania, Obama unveiled new standards for Head Start, an early childhood education program that aims to better prepare poor children to start kindergarten.

He said education centers would be regularly evaluated against “clear, high standards” and lower-performing programs would have to compete for federal funding rather than automatically receiving it.

“I firmly believe that Head Start is an outstanding program and a critical investment,” Obama told a few hundred people in a school gymnasium, saying kids participating in the program were less likely to repeat a grade and more likely to graduate from high school.

With the United States now competing against China, South Korea and European countries for companies as well as jobs, Obama said it was important to do all possible to help the next generation of U.S. workers.

“Right out of the gate it helps prepare our kids for a competition that has never been tougher, a competition for good middle-class well-paying jobs,” he said of Head Start. “We know that raising the bar isn’t always an easy thing to do but it’s the right thing to do.”

The change is part of a series of executive actions Obama is rolling out under his “we can’t wait” campaign. He said education reform should not be delayed because of congressional wrangling, calling it “an economic imperative.”

By taking actions on the economy and domestic issues that do not require congressional approval, Obama wants to pressure Republican lawmakers because of their resistance to his $447 billion jobs package.

Obama and Republicans have been sparring over funding for Head Start, with the White House seeking to shield it from overall cuts.

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