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It wasn’t until John King left the post of Secretary of Education under then-President Barack Obama that he had paid off his own student loans.
“I’ve spent a lot of my adult life paying,” said King, who studied political science at Harvard and law at Yale. He wouldn’t reveal how much he owed, but said, “It wasn’t bad, tens of thousands of dollars.” »
The 47-year-old King, who is currently running as a Democrat for governor of Maryland, is now one of many calling on President Joe Biden to cancel student debt through executive action. “We now have an opportunity to ease that burden on people and I really think this will help accelerate our economic recovery from Covid,” King said.
He also had warnings about what would happen if Biden didn’t act. A White House spokesman said the administration is continuing to evaluate loan forgiveness options.
The interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.
Annie Nova: What is it about your time as Secretary of Education that inspires you to campaign for student loan relief now?
JK: During the Obama administration, we put a lot of focus on reducing the burden on students who were being exploited by predatory, for-profit colleges. We also have income-based reimbursement programs in place. In retrospect, these plans were not enough. And right now, with the Covid crisis and the economic crisis that has accompanied the pandemic, we have an opportunity to make this a New Deal moment where we cancel debt for everyone.
AN: Do you think President Biden has the ability to forgive student debt himself without Congress?
JK: Yes. We were able to initiate a debt relief process in the Obama administration. And the vast majority of lawyers who have dealt with this issue believe that there is executive authority for a broad pardon.
AN: Have you had any discussions with the current Minister of Education, Miguel Cardona, about debt relief?
JK: I talked to him. That decision rests with the President.
AN: Over 40 million Americans are in debt. The average charge is over $30,000. A quarter of borrowers are in default. how did we get here
JK: This student debt crisis is the product of 40 years of political error. The purchasing power of the Pell Grants was allowed to decline. In 1980, Pell scholarships accounted for almost 80% of the cost of a public college degree; now it’s less than a third. As a country, we have moved away from treating higher education as a public good in order to shift much of the burden onto students and families.
AN: If student loans are eliminated, how do we keep the debt from spiraling out of control again?
JK: In order to solve the problem in the future, the necessary things must be done to make public higher education accessible to all students without debt. And it’s doable. It really boils down to this idea that a debt-free college is a public good, and just as we believe that K-12 education serves the public interest, the health of our economy, and the health of our democracy, so do we higher education.
AN: What do you think will happen if Biden doesn’t cancel student debt?
JK: There would be a great deal of disillusionment among key voters who are vital to the health of the Democratic Party.
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