MIAMI, March 7 (UPI) -- President Obama challenged U.S. high school students to fill out a financial aid form Friday, saying education is the best investment in the country's future.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited Coral Reef High School in Miami to announce that, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year this fall, the U.S. Education Department can begin working with states to identify students who haven't filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and potentially missing out on post-secondary financial aid.
"So, my challenge today to every high school student in America: fill out the form," Obama said. "Even if you think you might not qualify for financial aid, fill out the form. You might qualify."
He also announced that he directed the federal Education Department "to tell every governor that starting today, they can, if they choose, confidentially let high school administrators know which students have filled out the FAFSA form and which haven't."
States then would target additional resources to school districts where a large percentage of students fail to properly apply for aid to try to increase participation.
Obama said he and the first lady were working to encourage school districts "to adopt some terrific stuff that's being done down here in order for young people to know if they've done the work, if they're being responsible, they're outstanding students, then financing should not be a barrier for them being able to go to college."
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid Completion Initiative, Obama said, will help ensure more of students take the first step toward achieving college success. A FAFSA is required by colleges and universities to help determine a prospective student's eligibility for financial aid.
Obama also highlighted education initiatives in his just-released budget proposal, including his plan to offer universal pre-kindergarten, $300 million for a new Race to the Top program and $150 million to help high schools redesign their curricula.
"I want us to have the best-educated workforce in America," Obama said. "And I want it to be the most diverse workforce in the world. That's what I'm fighting for. That's what your superintendent and your principal are fighting for. And I hope that's what you fight for yourselves, because when I meet the students here at Coral Reef, I am optimistic about the future."
Before Obama's arrival at Coral Reef High School, about 100 people from the Venezuelan community pressed their case for Obama to recognize human rights violations in their home country, the (Fort Lauderdale) South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
"We're here because we want human rights, for President Obama to recognize Venezuela is violating the human rights of the students and the people," protester Gabriela Nyhus said. "People are dying and going to jail every day because of [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro. We want liberty for Venezuela."
Hundreds of people have been arrested and injured during anti-government protests in recent weeks in Venezuela, and at least 17 people have been killed.