"Officials were unable to explain the reason for the apparent lack of interest"

Lack of interest in what you might be asking… lack of interest in having the President speak at a high school commencement:

The White House is ramping up an effort to promote a nationwide competition to decide which high school wins a commencement speech by President Obama.

An internal White House memo indicates that the White House is facing a shortage of applications less than a week before the deadline.

The competition was extended from the February 25 deadline until Friday, March 11 after few schools met the original application deadline. CBS News has learned a White House Communications Office internal memo dated February 22 noted “a major issue with the Commencement Challenge.”

“As of yesterday we had received 14 applications and the deadline is Friday,” the memo said. The memo also urged recipients to, “please keep the application number close hold.”

A follow-up memo on February 28 reported receipt of 68 applications. Noting the competition among more than 1,000 schools last year, the memo said, “Something isn’t working.” It called on staffers to ask “friendly congressional, gubernatorial and mayoral offices” to encourage schools to apply.

“We should also make sure the Cabinet is pushing the competition out to their lists,” the memo said. The note reiterated, “We do not want the actual application number out there (we didn’t release the number of applications we received last year until after the submission period)-so folks should not use it in their pitches.”

On Monday, officials declined to cite the number of applications received so far.

The president will travel to the school that is judged to best prepare students for college and careers. The competition is part of Mr. Obama’s ultimate goal of making the U.S. the country with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Officials were unable to explain the reason for the apparent lack of interest, beyond pointing to possible procrastination by school systems.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told CBS Radio News, “It’s a huge opportunity for high schools to tell their story.” Asked about the lagging application numbers, Duncan said, “Folks are working hard.” He called on schools to “put their best foot forward and join the competition.”

Education Department press aide Elizabeth Utrup said the deadline was extended “to provide an ample amount of time to reach out to schools from across the country.”

You wonder how well this might be going if Obama wasn’t so beloved and cherished by Education establishment.

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