This week Secretary Arne Duncan served as a guest teacher to the Advanced Placement government and politics class at Falls Church High School in Northern Virginia. The secretary displayed pie charts and graphs and led a discussion on the federal budget and its implications for education and America’s students.
Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development, joined Secretary Duncan along with Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale and the new secretary of education for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Gerard Robinson.
Secretary Duncan told the class, “At the federal level … my real job is to work with Gerard, Jack, educators, and all of you to support [your] success at the local level.” The secretary explained part of that support comes in the form of grants, loans, and funds for programs that help teachers and students do their best to lead and learn.
Although President Obama has requested billions of dollars for early learning, reforms in K-12 education, and improved college access in the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget, students at Falls Church High School were surprised to learn that, of the country’s total annual expenditures for education, only about 10 percent comes from the federal government. While state and local governments play the primary role in funding and developing standards and curricula for schools, Secretary Duncan noted, “… at the federal Department of Education, our role is to listen. We learn, we pay attention to the good work that is going on in places like this … and we want to grow success across the country.”
Students were particularly interested to learn about federal support that is available to them in the form of Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, and tuition tax credits for college. One student guessed there was a total of $2.5 billion available to young people who need help financing higher education. The class was excited to find out that the number is closer to $170 billion—funds that could be used to help nearly 15 million students looking to further their learning.
One thing that was not new to the students was the connection between education and jobs. “How many jobs do you think are out there for high-school dropouts?” Secretary Duncan asked the seniors. Most of the students chimed in with an answer of “none.” The students recognized that more high-quality education has a direct impact on more high-quality career opportunities.
Secretary Duncan also asked students to get out their pencils and take notes about the income-based repayment program, which will allow college graduates to use 10 percent of their income to repay student loans. He further explained that if graduates take a job in a public service field—like teaching—their loans will be forgiven after 10 years.
One student said he found the lesson on the federal budget particularly relevant. The student, who plans to study communications and journalism in college, stated, “In our economy right now, going to college is so important. It’s good to know about the resources that are out there.”
Secretary Duncan explained that the President views the federal education budget as an investment rather than an expense. “We have to educate our way to a better economy,” the secretary stated, leaving the students at Falls Church with a challenge to continue learning and to become the next generation of innovators and leaders that the country needs to thrive.
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