The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said the Obama administration saved hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs this past year by providing anti-recession funding. But, he added, the country has a tremendously long way to go, beginning with early childhood education.
"The President has drawn a line in the sand. He said by 2020 we have to lead the world in the percent of college graduates. Lots of folks think we still lead the world and it's fascinating. Two and a half decades ago, we did. But we have flat-lined. We haven't moved. Other countries have passed us by and we are absolutely paying the price for that economically. So we have to be pushing very, very hard there," he said.
Duncan, the former head of the Chicago public school system, spoke in New York to an annual conference of more than 8,000 teachers, school supervisors and administrators. He said Americans who do not graduate from secondary school are basically condemned to poverty and social failure. The goal, he said, should be some form of higher education for all secondary school graduates.
"I am just absolutely convinced that this is the civil rights issue of our generation. The dividing line in our country is less around race and class and socio-economic status than it is around education opportunity. And you can give me a poor child from a single-parent home, in a tough community and put them in a great, great school and I am absolutely optimistic about what they are going to do," he said.
The top federal education official urged the elimination of government bank subsidies for student loans, with the funds transferred them to programs such as assistance to low income students and early childhood education programs. "This is a fascinating moment for our country. As much as $87 billion could come into education without going to taxpayers for a dime. How is that possible? It is possible if we simply remove the subsidies to banks that we're doing on loans at the higher education level," he said.
Legislation to end the $9 billion a year bank subsidies and transfer was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last September. It now awaits consideration by the Senate.