Washington (CNN) – President Obama's point man for improving America's schools said Tuesday that boosting educational opportunities will help the struggling economy.
"We have to educate our way to a better economy," Education Secretary Arne Duncan says in an interview set to air on CNN's "John King, USA."
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, Duncan defended changes to the federal student loan program that the president signed into law at a Virginia community college.
Under provisions included in the health care "fixes" bill, private banks will no longer handle federally-backed student loans. Previously, borrowers got college loans from either banks or the federal government. In return for administering loans to students, private banks received federal subsidies to provide student loans.
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Republicans have criticized the change as another example of the Obama administration taking control of something historically done by the private sector. But Duncan told King that the changes to the loan program shift money from banks to helping students finance their educations.
Duncan estimated that sixty billion dollars in federal funds will now be used for student loans instead of bank subsidies.
"Do you continue to subsidize banks, or do you invest in education?," Duncan asked. "This is the right thing for students. It's the right thing for the country. It's the right thing for American taxpayers. Very simple choice. It's the right idea."
Despite Republican criticism of the revamped student loan program, Duncan predicted that both parties will work together to re-tool No Child Left Behind, the landmark education initiative of the previous administration.
"I'm actually very optimistic," Duncan told King, "We've seen tremendous bipartisan support. Republicans, Democrats, House, Senate - everyone wants to get better. Education has to rise above politics and ideology. All of that has to go to side. People have been very, very thoughtful. No one is protecting the status quo."
Duncan, who played basketball as an undergraduate at Harvard and is part of a small circle that takes to the court with Obama, also spoke with King about his concerns over the graduation rates of some NCAA athletes.
Programming note: Watch more of Duncan's interview on John King, USA beginning at 7 p.m. E.T.