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Obama Returns to Education Policy in Break From Ukraine

March 7 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said the Education Department will lead an initiative to make sure that more high school students complete federal financial aid forms to help them find ways to pay for college.

Appearing with first lady Michelle Obama at Coral Reef High School in Miami, Obama said getting into and completing college was “our ticket to success” and it can be for more high school graduates.

While the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa, is the gateway to aid for students seeking higher education, Obama said, more than 1 million students annually fail to complete the forms.

He said he’s directing the Education Department to work with states to identify college-bound students who haven’t finished the Fafsa questionnaire, which determines eligibility for federal grants and loans. It’s also used by many colleges and universities for aid packages.

“My challenge to every high school student in America: Fill out the form,” Obama said.

The Obamas and their daughters planned to spend the weekend at the Ocean Reef Club, a golf resort in Key Largo, Florida. He’s looking forward to “a little bit of down time in the warm weather with his wife and daughters,” said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.

Ukraine Focus

The trip was in flux much of the week as the U.S. consulted with allies about Russia’s incursion in the Crimea region of Ukraine, Earnest said. Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice also are away from Washington this weekend. Secretary of State John Kerry is returning tonight.

Ultimately, Obama decided to head to Florida and planned to continue communicating with world leaders on Ukraine, Earnest said. Deputy National Security Adviser Antony Blinken is traveling with Obama.

Florida, which Obama won in both of his presidential elections, has drawn the Obamas several times in recent months. The state has several key races this year. Democrats are trying to retake the governorship from Republican Governor Rick Scott. Charlie Crist is seeking to oust him -- running as a Democrat three years after leading the state as a Republican. Crist was among those who attended today’s event at the Miami high school.

A special election next week for a congressional seat has Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly in a tight race.

The Obamas have not disclosed plans to raise money or campaign on this trip. Michelle Obama was in Miami earlier this week to promote enrollment in the national health-care insurance exchange. Obama plans to return to Miami later this month for a fundraiser at former basketball player Alonzo Mourning’s house to benefit Democratic congressional candidates.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at Joe Sobczyk, Michael Shepard

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