- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) - President Barack Obama is beginning a new effort to help students take the first step toward getting college educations.

Obama arrived Friday afternoon in Florida. He was to visit a Miami high school to announce an initiative to help students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The form is required for students to receive federal student aid such as Pell Grants or federal student loans. States, colleges and universities also award student financial aid based on the form.

Yet more than 1 million high school seniors annually do not file a FAFSA, the Education Department says.

As part of an effort to broaden access to education, Obama was announcing that, starting in the fall, the Education Department will begin working with states to identify students who have not completed the form. States can use that information to help schools and school districts work with these students on filling out the form.

The White House noted that Obama’s proposal for the budget year that starts in the fall asks Congress for more than $750 million for various education programs. His request includes $300 million for a new competition to encourage states and school districts close achievement and opportunity gaps, and $200 million to help teachers introduce digital technologies in their classrooms and lessons.

Obama also wants $100 million for a fund to support strategies that help make college more affordable.

Since 2009, the administration has simplified online filing of the FAFSA form by reducing the number of questions, using intuitive software that lets students and parents skip irrelevant questions and allowing them to download financial information straight into the form from the IRS website.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said the changes have cut the filing time to less than 30 minutes, down from more than an hour for the 2009-2010 school year.

Obama says education can help the country succeed economically because it will provide students with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. Education, and expanding access to it, is part of Obama’s agenda to provide “opportunity for all,” along with creating jobs, training people to fill those jobs and raising the minimum wage.

Michelle Obama was joining her husband on the visit to Coral Reef High School. The president and first lady have been making an effort to encourage young people, particularly minorities, to pursue a college education, and they have been using their personal stories of how education helped them get where they are today. Both are Ivy League-educated.

The White House said it anticipated no changes to Obama’s plans to spend the weekend in Florida, although that still could change.

As Obama flew to Florida, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was looking forward to some warm weather and down time with his wife and daughters. But he said the vacation wouldn’t interfere with Obama’s ability to monitor events in Ukraine and to stay in close contact with other world leaders.

“What the president’s doing this weekend in Florida is essentially what the president would be doing if he stayed back at the White House,” Earnest said.

The White House has not said where Obama will stay on his weekend escape from Washington’s frigid weather, but local media reports said he, his wife and their two daughters would be staying at the Ocean Reef Club, a private membership club set on 2,500 tropical acres on the northern tip of Key Largo.

For avid golfers like Obama, the property boasts two championship 18-hole golf courses. The club also has a swimming lagoon, tennis courts, a spa and fitness center, a private airport and more than a dozen restaurants among its varied offerings.


Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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