MIAMI (USA TODAY) - President Obama continued to sell his2014 budget proposalon Friday, unveiling a new push to get students to apply for federal college aid during a speech at a high school south of Miami.
Speaking to a gymnasium full of students at Coral Reef Senior High School, Obama touted his plan to increase funding by $300 million for Race to the Top - a federal program funding innovative state education projects - as well as a $200 million initiative to help teachers integrate digital teaching aides in their classrooms.
Obama also reprised his push for universal prekindergarten and an expanded Head Start, which provides early childhood education for low-income families.
"We should start teaching our kids at the earliest stages. When we set high expectations, every single one of you can meet them," the president said.
Obama's main focus was on a new program to get more high-school students to apply for federal college aid. He urged the students - sitting in the crowd and standing behind him on stage - to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that qualifies them for Pell Grants and other federal assistance.
Coral Reef, a "mega-magnet" school comprised of six academies, is ranked as the nation's 109th best high school,according to Newsweek. Only half of the school's graduating seniors filled out the financial aid form four years ago, but that number rose to more than 71% last year, according toThe Miami Herald.
"You guys are ahead of the game, and we're here to tell you that you've got to keep up the good work," he said. "We put the FAFSA form online. We made it shorter. And it could change the rest of your life."
Republicans have blasted Obama's proposals, insisting that he's simply creating a wave of new initiatives that will make education in America more "costly and confusing."
"Spending more money on broken programs will not provide the support our most vulnerable children, workers, and families desperately need," said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Before entering the gymnasium, Obama was greeted by hundreds of demonstrators outside the school encouraging the president to help the citizens of Venezuela, who have been embroiled in months of protests that have claimedmore than 20 lives. Obama's ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carmen Lomellin, said on Thursday that the nations of Latin America cannot "stand silent" as Venezuela's government continues cracking down on peaceful demonstrators.
The issue is of critical importance in Florida, where more than 100,000 Venezuelans live, the highest concentration by far in the country.
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