Speaking at a Head Start center in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Obama said boosting the nation's education system at all levels is an economic imperative because it puts young people on the path toward obtaining good jobs later in life.
The president said his administration has been able to work on education reform with mayors and governors in both parties. But congressional Republicans, he said, have stood in the way of his efforts to revamp the No Child Left Behind law and blocked a proposal in the president's job bill that the White House said would have kept 400,000 teachers in the classroom.
"If Congress continues to stand only for dysfunction and delay, I'm going to move forward without them," Obama said.
Under the new rules Obama announced on Tuesday, lower-performing Head Start programs that fail to meet a new set of benchmarks will be required to compete for federal funding.
The new standards mandate that poorly performing programs will have to compete for funding if they have deficiencies discovered in their onsite review, fail to establish and use school-readiness goals for children, or demonstrate low performance in the classroom quality evaluation.
Going forward, all Head Start grants will be good for five years. After that time, each program's performance will be re-evaluated to determine whether it is meeting the benchmarks or must compete for another grant.
"We're just not going to put money into programs that don't work. We will take money and put them into programs that do," Obama said during his quick trip to Pennsylvania.
The Head Start program provides preschool for 900,000 low-income children. Administration officials estimate about one-third of Head Start programs will be affected by the new standards.
The announcement is the latest step in the administration's effort to show a contrast between the president and Republicans. With the GOP having blocked action on the president's $447 billion jobs bill last month, the White House is refocusing on smaller measures the president can take with congressional approval.
Those measures include steps to allow more homeowners to refinance their mortgages, lessen the burden of student loan debt, and give military veterans access to career counseling and job search programs.