A Conversation With John B. King Jr.
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A Conversation With John B. King Jr.


– Welcome everyone and
thanks for being here. I’m Kavitha Cardoza, I’m a correspondent for Education Week. And joining me today is John King. He’s the former Education Secretary and now he’s the president and
CEO of The Education Trust. Thanks so much for coming by John. – Thanks for the opportunity. – So big news, the skinny budget for education was released and it calls for a 13 and a half percent cut. That’s about nine billion dollars. I really saw the difference between you, the former secretary and
the current secretary, Betsy Devoss, summed up in two quotes. She has called her brand of reform a way to advance God’s
kingdom and you looked at the skinny budget and wrote, “We would be going backwards.” And so very different views, whether we’re moving
forwards or backwards. We have 11 million poor
children in public schools. The Federal Budget Director has said they’ve cut the most wasteful,
indefensible programs. How is this gonna effect poor kids? – Well this budget is really an assault on the American dream. You look at what’s happening with professional development
for teachers, Title II. That’s money that’s
used to help teachers to improve their craft. It’s also used to support
the hiring of teachers in many districts, particularly
high needs districts. That program is totally eliminated. There’s a program called 21st Century that’s focused on after school programs, summer programs for high needs
kids, totally eliminated. We know the difference that after school and small programs can make. They may be the one safe
place that kids have to be in some high needs communities. That’s totally eliminated. Aid for students who are going to college, high needs students going to college, dramatically cut, including,
stealing essentially, four billion dollars from Pell grants for other purposes. Pell grants are used to support low income students going to college. So this budget really
is an attack on the very resources that students in high needs communities need to be successful. Not to mention the cuts to the safety net which also have a terrible impact on high needs kids and their families. – I wanted to talk about
some of these individually. So when we talk about teacher training, actually that was the first budget cut that jumped out at me just because we hear over and over
again, teacher training, teacher professional development makes a huge difference and a good teacher can make all the difference with kids, often high needs kids. – That’s right. That was my experience
growing up in New York City and going to school in Brooklyn. Lost both my parents as a kid and it was a great teacher, who was
my teacher in fourth, fifth, sixth grade, Mr. Ash-er-wah, he saved my life. If not for him I wouldn’t be here today. And Title II is really
about investing in teachers. And I think it sends a
terrible message to educators when you eliminate the very program that’s intended to support them. – Another one was Pell grants. You had talked about stealing four billion dollars of surplus. But Pell grants, actually
it’s level funding right? The surplus can’t be used and then there are cuts to related
programs that help first generation low
income kids get to college, so Gear Up, Trio. Some people say that
Pell grants are the same so we should be fine. Do you think when you take away from a supporting structure,
it will effect these kids? – Well for sure. We know the cuts to some
of the related aid programs will directly take dollars away that would’ve helped students
go to college next year. The cuts to the Pell grants, by taking money from the surplus, that’s money that can’t then
be spent on Pell students. We oughta be talking about increasing the size of Pell grants. We know Pell grants cover a lower share of the cost of college today
than they did 20 years ago. We should be increasing the amount so that more low income students can go to college and succeed there. We should also be talking
about year round Pell. One of the restrictions
on the Pell program now is that students run out
of their Pell dollars by the time they get to the summer. They can’t take summer classes. It reduces the likelihood that students will graduate on time. We should be investing
additional dollars in Pell so the students can continue their studies over the summer, would
increase graduation rates, would result in a more prepared workforce and a stronger economy. That’s really one of the ironies here. The 45th president on the campaign trail talked about wanting to invest
in the American workforce, to create greater opportunity for folks who’d been left behind. This budget does the opposite. It takes opportunities away from the folks who are most vulnerable. – I was just thinking of something, the economy was a big talking point on both sides during the election and when I talk to people who
study international education, they always talk about education being the long term investment in the workforce. Like that has a direct correlation. – That’s exactly right. It’s one of the reasons why I think we should be talking about today how to invest additional
resources in education. We should be talking, as
you and I have in the past, about early learning
which has an eight to one, nine to one return on
every dollar invested. We should be talking
about how do we invest more in getting the best teachers to the highest needs kids because so often kids in high needs
communities are in schools where there’s lots of teacher turnover and they aren’t getting
the strongest teachers. Many times in high needs communities, they also aren’t getting advanced courses like physics and chemistry and AP classes. We should be talking about
how to put resources there. We should be talking about investing more in public higher education so that students have the opportunity
to go to college for free. President Obama proposed
America’s College Promise, the idea that all students would have the opportunity to go to two year community colleges for free. That’s what we should be talking about. Instead we’re talking about cuts that will devastate opportunities
for low income students. – So I wanted to go back
to a cut you talked about where you said after school programs, as we all know, they help kids. I’ve read a lot of people saying, “After school programs do nothing. “They don’t show academic gains.” So how would you? Clearly there are such
different viewpoints, what would you say to that? – Well a couple things. One, there are different kinds of after school and summer programs. And it is true that some of them are less effective than others. But there’s very clear research evidence that well designed after school programs and summer programs can
make a huge difference in student achievement. Particularly in summer, we
know that there’s a lot of what’s called summer learning loss, where students who are home for the summer aren’t engaged academically, aren’t getting enrichment,
actually fall behind, loose months of learning over the summer. – And those are
particularly poor children? – Right. Exactly right. So this investment
through the 21st Century Community Centers fund,
those are resources that can support high quality after school and summer programs. Now if someone wants to say, “We should strengthen
the evidence requirements “for that program. “We should have more rigorous evaluations. “We should fund programs more that have “demonstrated results and reduce funding “for programs that aren’t able
to produce those results.” That’s a conversation worth having within that context that we need more after school and
more summer opportunities for poor kids, not less. But I think some of the
conversation about results is actually being used
as a way to distract from the core question of whether or not we should be making
investments in young people. – Okay. I want to move a little
bit and ask you something. So the Obama administration had invested heavily in school improvement grants, raised to the top billions of dollars and independent
evaluations have found that they really have made a difference. How would you answer
someone when they said, “Well, additional dollars
is not the answer.” – Again, this is a case where you’ve gotta look beneath the program level to what are initiatives that have worked. So if you look at California for example. In California there was
a rigorous evaluation of their use of school
improvement grant dollars and they found that there
were a set of schools that made significant progress because there was a substantial investment in teacher professional development and efforts to retain strong teachers. Which further supports
also the investments that we’re making in Title II, by the way. There are other places where school improvement grant dollars
were not as well used. So that’s a fair critique,
that the program left a lot of discretion to local
and state decision making. Some investments work better than others. But the answer hasn’t been eliminate the resources for higher needs schools. The answer is structure the program so that we invest more in
efforts that are getting results. And certainly the Obama administration, we prioritize the focus on evidence driving decision making. We had the Investing and
Innovation grant program, where you actually got more funds based on whether you had a good hypothesis or really strong evidence or demonstrated evidence in multiple sites to justify a large investment in scaling up a particular program. That’s the way we should be
thinking about these things. But we shouldn’t abandon
investments in young people. – Some money remains level. So special education
funding is at the same level and there are actually areas where there are more funds. So there’s one billion
for school districts with poor children. 168 million increase for
charter school programs. 250 million for a new Private
School Choice program. The administration
clearly sees school choice as a way to have equity,
as a way to help poor kids. Tell me why you disagree. – Well there’s good choice and bad choice. I would contrast, let’s say Massachusetts, which has a strong public
charter school law. These are public schools that
are publicly accountable, they have more flexibility. But there’s a high bar to get a charter, there’s rigorous oversight of charters and a willingness to close schools that are low performing. I contrast that with Michigan, where there is a weak charter law and a proliferation of low performing for profit schools that
aren’t serving kids well. And so you can do public
school choice well or poorly. My hope would be that if there is any investment in charter schools, it’s done in a way that advances quality charter authorizing,
quality charter laws. And I worry that there’s big evidence from what we’ve heard so
far from the administration that they’re not interested in that level of real public accountability. – So when you say public accountability, they take the same tests, for example, so we can measure academic growth. They have to report certain things. Okay. – They have to serve
special education students. They have to serve English learners. They have to demonstrate that they’re getting students to graduation,
ready for what’s next. And they’re keeping the promises that they made in their
charter application. Now, charters are one thing,
vouchers are quite another. I think the evidence is quite clear that voucher programs that exist around the country have
not delivered results. – So vouchers are public dollars that students can take and attend private or parochial schools. – That’s exactly right. The reality is that in many communities, there really aren’t that
many private school options. Particularly you think about rural communities around the country. So what you’re really talking about is vouchers to incentivize the creation of more for profit schools. I think that’s exactly
the wrong direction. We’ve seen in the states that are implementing voucher programs, lower academic outcomes for
the students who participate and less public accountability. Places where schools are turning away students with disabilities or not protecting student civil rights. Places where vouchers have been used over the course of American history as a way to increase
segregation in schools. I think vouchers are a big distraction from the real work which is strengthening our public education system. – What about vouchers for, not for the for profit schools, but say parochial schools
or private schools? We have that in D.C. – Yeah I worry again
that it’s a distraction from the core work of
improving public education and inherently less publicly accountable. The private schools are
not part of the same systems of public
governance where you have to account for how resources are used. You have to account for how you’re protecting student civil rights. You have to account for how you are assessing teacher readiness
for the classroom. And so I do, me personally,
I’m very skeptical that voucher programs will help. I think they are much more likely to take resources away
from public education and distract us from our core mission. – So it’s not over. There are two million
dollars in the skinny budget that we don’t know where
those cuts are coming from. Do you worry that’s like
Office of Civil Rights, Career and Technical Education? – I’m very worried about that. The skinny budget doesn’t
give a lot of detail even on some of the programs
that it does describe like the additional billion
dollars for Title I, it’s unclear if that would really go to high needs students or that would end up being used for some sort of portability scheme where the resources are actually taken away
from high needs schools and given to more affluent schools. It’s unclear from their budget. It is also unclear where these other two billion dollars plus in
cuts are going to come from. And I worry a lot. If you go after Career and
Technical Education for example, we know given the challenges we have in building a competitive
21st century workforce, business leaders all over
the country are saying, “We need more students who are ready for “high skilled jobs, not less.” And taking money away
from Career and Technical Education programs will harm businesses. It will harm the economy and again, is in stark contrast
with some of the rhetoric that we heard on the campaign trail. – Also Career and Technical Ed often is done by community colleges which disproportionately serve
low income students. – And again it comes back
to, on the campaign trail, the 45th president talked about folks who have been left behind,
folks who are struggling. For many of those folks, community colleges are a lifeline. It’s the place where the working mom goes to get additional education so she can move up at the work place. It’s the place where the laid off worker who’s manufacturing job has left can go and get training for a new job in a 21st century economy field. If you reduce resources
for community colleges, you’re harming the very people that the 45th president said he
was trying to protect. – The federal dollars just account for actually ten percent of the
money that flows, right? About 90% of the money spent on education comes from local and the
district level, or state level. Do you think states and districts can make up for this money? If these cuts go through? – The reality is the highest needs states and districts can’t. They’re struggling in terms
of their own revenue sources. And so I think what you’ll see is cuts that directly impact students. Now, will there be some affluent districts that can make up for the loss of Title II dollars for example? Sure. That is possible. But those are dollars
that should otherwise be going to other activities that would support the highest needs students. In my view and we’ve talked
about this many times, that the federal government should be investing more and not less. And what we see here
is a dramatic reduction in the federal investment. And true not just in education, it’s true in healthcare,
it’s true in transportation, it’s true around the
environment, around housing. All these issues that effect directly the kids who are most vulnerable. – So I want to move on to
a quick rapid fire round but I want to remind everyone
we’re listening to John King, he’s the president and CEO
of The Education Trust. He’s also the former
Secretary of Education. So you had kind of touched
on this a little bit earlier, you have a very compelling personal story and I want to ask you the
criticism against Betsy Devoss has been, she hasn’t
been to public school, she hasn’t sent her kids to public school. Do you think that’s a valid
criticism of a disconnect. – Well I’ll say this. For me, having been a
public school student, having been a teacher and a
principle in a public school, having my kids in Montgomery
County public schools, all those things inform how
I think about education. They informed how I did
my work at the department, they inform how I think about issues now at The Education Trust. That said, I’m more interested in the substance of someone’s views than necessarily exactly which
experiences they’ve had. So you could be an effective
Secretary of Education and not for example, have been a teacher. But what I would hope is that you see the value of teachers, you understand that teachers are the lynch pin
of our educational system, that we should be doing more
to support our teachers. And all the signals are
that is not well understood by the current Education Department team, given that they’re
walking away from Title II which is to support teacher
professional development. You don’t have to have gone for example, to a historically black college to understand the important
role that they play in our society and to
understand the history around historically black colleges. But you do have to study and learn and you have to be
committed to understanding their important role. Some of the Secretary’s comments, equating historically black colleges and universities with school choice, ignoring the fact that the schools were created by necessity because of the history of slavery and
segregation in this country and the impact that that’s had on access to opportunity. Those kind of insensitive remarks reflect an unwillingness to
get the right information. And that worries me much more than what college she went to. – Is there anything
you like in the budget? (sighs) – Unfortunately across the board, it’s really headed in the wrong direction, almost every instance. There are things that were protected. I was glad that IDA wasn’t cut. – Special education. – Investments in special
education weren’t cut, but that’s hardly something to celebrate. We actually know the federal government doesn’t fulfill nearly
the level of spending on special education that was promised when IDA was last re-authorized. – So they had promised
that they would give states about 40% of the cost, because special education
students often cost much more. And they haven’t come close. – Exactly. Exactly. So, I think it’d be a
mistake for any of us to look at the places
where they’re haven’t been draconian cuts and say, and
declare victory from that. The primary impact of this budget will be to reduce opportunity
for low income students. – Say it was under the
previous administration, you were still Secretary of Education, and President Obama said,
“You have to cut ten percent.” Like for some whatever reason. Like, we just have to make cuts. Where would you make cuts? – The reality is I don’t think President Obama would’ve asked us to do that in education. He would’ve looked to other places in the budget for cuts
because he understood the role that education plays
in the long term success not only of our economy
but of our democracy. And I think that’s a values question that one has to ask about
this administration, about governors as well. The folks who go to
education first for cuts are making a long term mistake because ultimately the strength of your state’s economy or your nation’s economy depends on having a
well prepared workforce. – I remember hearing about, I think it was the Czech Republic where, someone who studies international schools, showed me how much they invested and then a few years later how they
saw the return on that. – That’s right, that’s right. And this is really a
national security issue. Much has been made of this idea that resources are being
reallocated to defense. And one question I would ask is, isn’t it in our long term
national security interest to have a well educated American populous? Isn’t it in our national security interest to have students who when
they finish high school can actually join the military? One of the things that we see is that there are many places around the country where very few of the
students meet the minimum standards to enter the military. Shouldn’t we be worried about that from a national security perspective? Isn’t that a threat to
our national security if we can’t train enough engineers to have our businesses be competitive with the rest of the world? So again, I just find this budget and the priorities very
short sighted and misguided. – I’ve got a last question. So some people are like, “Oh my gosh, “this budget is really devastating.” And others are like,
“It’s never gonna pass. “Don’t worry, it has
to go through Congress, “they’re not gonna let
the cuts go through.” How worried are you and how worried do you think everyone should be? – I mean, folks should be worried, partly because the
president’s budget proposal sets the baseline for the discussion. And it’s true, ultimately Congress decides and I do hope that there will be courageous Republicans
who will stand up for low income students
having access to college, who will stand up for teachers getting the kind of support that they need. I am hopeful about that. But I worry that this
budget has framed the debate so much so that we’re focusing on the places where we’re
thankful they’re aren’t cuts as opposed to the argument
we should be having which is how do we do more around early learning, for example? You know we’ve only got about 40% of four year olds in
public pre-school programs. That’s not good enough. We should be doing more to have more students get the
kind of quality start that will allow them to
be successful in K-12. That’s the conversation
we should be having. We should be having a conversation about free college tuition and what we can do to make sure that all Americans have access to higher education. But we’re not having that conversation. Instead we’re talking about, well what can we do to
protect after school programs or what can we do to protect
Meals on Wheels even? This budget I fear, has focused the conversation
in the wrong place. – Is there anything else you want to add that I haven’t asked you about and you think is really important? – Well I think whether it’s on the budget or on implementation of the
Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law, the conversation now moves to state. And the question will be
governors and legislatures, are they willing to step
up on behalf of kids? And as they react to the federal budget, they need to tell their
congressional representatives to fight for resources
but then they’ve gotta react and say what are
we gonna do as a state. Whatever the feds are doing, what are we gonna do to expand access to quality early learning? What are we gonna do to make sure that kids in every high
school in our state have access to advanced course work? What are we gonna do in our state to make sure that students
have access to college? And these aren’t partisan issues. Think about a state like Tennessee. Governor Haslam, Republican. He’s made strengthening the K-12 education system a top priority. He’s made that Tennessee
College Promise a priority to that in Tennessee you know you can get two years of college for free. So this doesn’t have to be about Democrats and Republicans. This is about our kids and making sure that we’re investing in our long term success as a country. – Thanks so much. – Thank you. – Thanks for joining us.

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