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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript


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I want to bring in Arne Duncan. He is the president's secretary of education and he joins me live.

Mr. Secretary, it's nice to have you back on the show.

ARNE DUNCAN, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Hi. Good afternoon, Brooke. Thanks for the opportunity. BALDWIN: Thank you. I know some folks are saying there really is no fight here. The White House wants us to think there is one simply because it's good for the president's election campaign.

What do you say to that?

DUNCAN: Again, we just need to get this done.

And I have said from day one, we have to work together in a bipartisan way to educate our way to a better economy. We would, Republicans and Democrats alike, do everything we can to keep interest rate downs. The president is out traveling the country, working very, very hard on this. The vice president and I have been out traveling the country, and going to college has never been more important, Brooke.

Unfortunately, it's also never been more expensive. And to have interest rates double July 1 if Congress doesn't act is simply unacceptable. So we have to act and we have to act now with a sense of urgency, and we should absolutely be doing this together.

BALDWIN: Do you agree though that this really won't come down to a fight and that some people are saying there is really is no ruckus over this after all, that both sides are agreeing?

DUNCAN: Well, again, it has to get done.

It's one thing to have folks sort of verbally agree. It's another thing for Congress to pass the bill, to pass this law. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. We're still in the early innings. There has been significant opposition to this and to investing in education generally.

There are lots of folks in Congress that want to scale back in Perkins grants and Perkins loans and Pell Grants and other things. Again, education is an investment, not an expense. We have to work together on this. I think if we can pass this together, that would move the country forward in a very positive direction.

BALDWIN: Do you, as U.S. education secretary, feel comfortable being drawn into a political battle such as this one, especially as we point out in an election year?

DUNCAN: Again, I could care less about politics and ideology. I just want to see every single young person have a chance to get a great education.

So I'm going to fight for whether it's early childhood education or K-12 reform and making sure our high school students graduate from high school and graduate college and career-ready, or whether it's making sure many more young people have access to college.

Brooke, your viewers may not know one generation ago, we led the world in college graduates. Today, we're 16th; 15 other countries have passed us by. They're out-educating us, they're out-innovating us. We have to again lead the world. That's what the president has challenged us to do. We all have to do this together.

And again, at a time when so many folks are struggling to pay for college, it has to be -- college has to be accessible to the middle class and to have these interest rates double makes no sense whatsoever.

BALDWIN: So let's put politics aside.

I guess my final question, on a more personal note, Secretary Duncan, as we are in this election year, I want you to just think about this. Give me one achievement within obviously your wheelhouse being education that you feel, I don't know, proudest of from your three-plus years of office? Just one achievement.

DUNCAN: Well, there are many things we have worked extraordinarily hard on and I'm proud of.


BALDWIN: Give me one.

DUNCAN: Top of the list would be giving an additional $40 billion for Pell Grants, $40 billion for Pell Grants, the biggest increase since the G.I. Bill. We did that without going back to taxpayers for a nickel.

We simply stopped subsidizing banks, didn't think they needed the money, put all that money into young people. That was very controversial here in Washington. Lots of folks fought that. We thought it was absolutely commonsense. We got that done.

And we have to keep fighting for that because there are people in Congress today that want to scale back Pell Grants. And I think anyone who thinks we need a less educated work force, we need folks to have less access to college, for me, as a country, that's cutting off our nose to spite our face.

BALDWIN: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

DUNCAN: Thanks so much. Have a great afternoon.


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