Obama education chief: Student loan reform to address income inequality

President Obama’s education reform efforts will address growing income inequality in the U.S., Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Wednesday.

Speaking on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," Duncan promoted the administration’s jobs plan, portions of which are targeted at updating school facilities and hiring teachers.

He also blasted Congress for not moving forward with Obama’s jobs bill, saying the nation needs to “stop subsidizing banks and give that money to young people.”

Duncan’s comments are part of an effort by the administration to call attention to efforts by the president to take actions on the economy that do not require legislation from Congress.

The remarks also echo arguments from the Occupy Wall Street movement, which some Democrats believe could bolster the president in his 2012 reelection bid.

Obama is in Denver on Wednesday to unveil his “Know Before You Owe” initiative, which is aimed at reducing the debt burden for recent college graduates.

“What we’re trying to do is help on the back end, to reduce those monthly payments on those loans,” Duncan said. “To make sure folks have a better opportunity to be successful there — less defaults will strengthen the economy, and we can do this by ourselves. We don’t have to wait for Congress — we can’t wait for Congress. We’re moving ahead today.”

According to Duncan, the Know Before You Owe plan will cap monthly student loan payments at 10 to 15 percent of the graduate’s income.

“Basically we want people to have more disposable income,” he continued. “We want to reduce those monthly payments, and this can reduce those monthly payments by up to a couple of hundred dollars, so this is very significant both for recent college graduates as well as those currently in school.”

Duncan also said Obama is pushing for education reform through his American Jobs Act. Earlier this month, Senate Republicans voted in unison to block the legislation, and then again voted to filibuster a scaled-back piece of the bill aimed at putting teachers and first responders back to work.

The administration hopes to use that vote against Republicans in the 2012 campaign.

“Every Senate Republican voted to block a bill that would put more money in the pockets of middle-class families and keep hundreds of thousands of teachers in the classroom, instead of in unemployment lines,” Duncan wrote in an editorial for The Hill on Tuesday.

Congress is expected to vote on additional portions of the administration’s jobs bill in the weeks ahead. Part of the act would allocate funds to repair and modernize public schools and community colleges, which the administration says face a $270 billion backlog in deferred maintenance.

“In the American Jobs Act, the president proposes to invest $30 billion to repair and modernize public schools and community colleges, putting hundreds of thousands of unemployed construction workers, engineers, boiler repairmen and electrical workers back to work,” Duncan wrote in the editorial.

“He also proposes an additional $30 billion to keep hundreds of thousands of educators facing potential layoffs and furloughs on the job. Modernizing and repairing our schools is a classic win-win solution. It benefits everyone — children, communities and construction workers who need work.”