WASHINGTON WATCH ROUNDTABLE: Student Interest Rate Bill, School Choice And Who Has the Best Plan To Educate Our Children? (VIDEO)

Roland Martin and the Washington Watch roundtable discuss who has the best plan to educate our children, student loans, school choice and more.

This week’s roundtable features Angela Rye, general counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus; Pulitzer Prize-winning “Chicago Tribune” columnist Clarence Page; Cynthia Gordy, senior political correspondent for TheRoot.com and Dr. Chris Metzler, political scientist at Georgetown University.

MR. MARTIN:  Hey, folks.  Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”  Time for our roundtable discussion.  Here with us today, a newbie, Angela Rye, general counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus; Pulitzer Prize-winning “Chicago Tribune” columnist Clarence Page.  He’s always happy to sit between two women.

MR. CLARENCE PAGE:  Always, always.

MR. MARTIN:  Joining us next is Cynthia Gordy, senior political correspondent for TheRoot.com; and stuck way on the far end –

DR. CHRIS METZLER:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  — Dr. Chris Metzler, political scientist at Georgetown University.  And as you can see, Chris is rockin’ the pink tie and the blue shirt.

DR. METZLER:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  Clarence, last time we here, Chris – Chris had some – had a really rough outfit, and –

DR. METZLER:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  — luckily, Mikki Taylor of “Essence” magazine was here, so she gave him –


MR. MARTIN:  — a quickie makeover.

MR. PAGE:  Oh!  I should’ve been there that d- — [chuckles].

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah, we – we – I mean we had to hook him up.  So, he’s been dressing a lot better since Mikki hooked him up.

DR. METZLER:  Yeah.  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. PAGE:  [Crosstalk] – wore the same tie I wore last time, by the way.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]


MR. MARTIN:  Let’s ge- — let’s get right to it.  Very interesting week in politics.  Obviously, Mitt Romney has pretty much solidified himself as being the Republican nominee, and one of the huge issues is education.  So, here’s what the President had to say on the issue of education, and then – right now.  Then we’ll go to what Mitt Romney had to say – but, first, the President at the University of North Carolina.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  They need to extend the tuition tax credit that we put in place back when I came into office.

VOICE:  Amen!

PRES. OBAMA:  It’s saving  middle-class families thousands of dollars.


PRES. OBAMA:  Congress needs to – Congress needs to safeguard aid for low-income students, like Pell Grants, so that today’s freshmen and sophomores knows [sic] that they’ll be able to count on.


PRES. OBAMA:  Congress needs to give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs over the next five years.



MR. MARTIN:  Mitt Romney won five primaries on Tuesday.  Here’s what he had to say about education in his victory speech.


MR. MITT ROMNEY:  This America is fundamentally fair.  We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice.



MR. MARTIN:  So, what role do you think education will actually play?  Will it be a critical discussion in this election?

MS. CYNTHIA GORDY:  And I think so far it has been a critical issue in discussion[s], with the – with the student loan interest rates issue that came up this week.  The President has put out, you know, to students that he wants to keep their interest rates low, even though it will be – it’ll be costly to Congress.  He’s saying that investing in that – that attribute for – for students is more important right now than focusing on balancing the budget on their backs.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney came around to that point of view; but originally, he was against that.  And originally, he want- — he wanted to cut Pell Grants.  He wanted to cut education programs in the interests of the deficit.  So, I think that’s a fundamental difference around education that’s already played out.

MR. PAGE:  Imagine the very notion of Mitt Romney changing his position on something!

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MR. PAGE:  But Mitt Romney wasn’t alone on this.  John Boehner had been – and the rest of the Republicans – they all endorsed the – the Ryan budget, which calls for a return of student loans to the – what – 8 percent rate –

MR. MARTIN:  Um-hum.

MR. PAGE:  — and – and cutting Pell Grants.  And all of a sudden, this week John Boehner came out and said – said, “There’s never been an” – “been an argument over this.  Of course” – “Of course we’re not going” – “going to let the student loan rates go up” – [chuckles] – and – and acting like it’d been a Republican idea all along.

So, Barack Obama’s barnstorming of three, different campuses in three, different swing states apparently –


MR. PAGE:  — has had an impact on – on pushing that debate along.  The –

DR. METZLER:  Well, I –

MR. PAGE:  — argument there is over how to pay for it.

DR. METZLER:  — yeah, I – and – and I’m not sure that –

MR. MARTIN:  The one college professor on our panel.

DR. METZLER:  — [chuckles] – yeah.

MR. PAGE:  [Crosstalk.]

DR. METZLER:  The – the whole idea of Republicans being against education I don’t think is accurate.  I absolutely don’t think it’s accurate.  The question is, “How do you approach education?”  A couple of points.  First of all, the Department of Education – I think everyone can agree that the Department of Education can be cut.  There are things that can be done that need to be return to –

MR. MARTIN:  I won’t say –

DR. METZLER:  — the states.

MR. MARTIN:  — “everyone can agree,” but –


MR. MARTIN:  — go right ahead.

DR. METZLER:   Yeah, okay.  [Chuckles.]

MR. PAGE:  You want to cut Pell Grants?

DR. METZLER:  No.  I don’t want to cut Pell –

MR. PAGE:  Well, that’s what –

DR. METZLER:  — Grants.

MR. PAGE:  — Ryan’s budget –

DR. METZLER:  Well –

MR. PAGE:  — calls for.

DR. METZLER:  — but Ryan’s budget was at least a starting point.  It was a point of discussion.  So, at least we’re now having the discussion relative to education, so I think to say that Republicans are fundamentally against education just isn’t accurate.

MS. ANGELA RYE:  I don’t think –

MR. PAGE:  Who said that?

MS. RYE:  — I don’t think anyone –

MR. PAGE:  Who said that?

MS. RYE:  — said that, and I think the most important thing that we’re talking about today is a bill that’s actually being considered, and that is the student interest rate bill.  So, for us to be in a situation right now where we have, potentially, on the table a doubling of a 3.4 interest rate for students when we already are suffering from a bad economy – we can’t afford it.  This is an easy lift.

The problem is the Republicans have tied the Affordable Care Act to this, because they want to piecemeal-repeal the Affordable Care Act.

DR. METZLER:  Well, so the- — there is a disagreement ab- — about how to pay for it.

MR. PAGE:  Right.

DR. METZLER:  That’s the fundamental disagreement.

MS. RYE:  Absolutely.

MR. PAGE:  Right,

DR. METZLER:  So, the fundamental disagreement is about how to pay for education –


MS. GORDY:  That di- — that disagreement about how to pay for it only came out after the President basically reached out to college students and made sure –

MS. RYE:  That’s right,.

MS. GORDY:  — that every student in America knew that he was “on their side” on this issue, and it looked bad for Republicans to be against it, so –

MR. MARTIN:  Now, I –

MS. GORDY:  — it’s not like they were always for this.

MR. MARTIN:  — I do want to get your thoughts on this, because in that clip Mitt Romney talked about the whole issue of school choice.  And what’s very interesting is when you look at low-performing schools, [a] significant number of those affect African-American children.  When we were on Air Force One with the President – I think it was in 2009, Cynthia – I asked the President about his opposing – his opposition to the D.C. school vouchers, and I said, “Mr. President, look.  This is the way I feel about education.  I like pri-” – “public school, private school, home school, online, charters, magnets, vouchers – I don’t care.  I believe educate a kid any way possible.”

I do think that if Republicans can make a more substantive argument when it comes to school choice, and if they’re able to say forget this whole notion of anybody gets to go.  If I’m them, I would say the bottom 5 percent.  “So, we’re going to ignore the top 95 percent, but the worst of the worst should be able to send their kids to a much better school.”  I think it’s going to force Democrats to have a different conversation –

DR. METZLER:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — when it comes to what are you supporting when it comes to the education of folks – poor Whites, but also poor African-Americans and Hispanics.

DR. METZLER:  Yeah, because the – the whole issue of school choice – I mean – and – and we – the – the biggest lobby against school choice are public school teachers and public school unions.  That’s the biggest lobby against school choice.

But I think you’re absolutely right, Roland.  The question is educating that bottom 5 percent, ’cause the r- — the rest of folks are going to do what they’re going to do.  The question is, what are they skilled to do?  This notion that everyone should go to a four-year college, as I’ve heard some of my colleagues say, just isn’t accurate; because that’s not the place for everyone –

MR. MARTIN:  Well, I – I me- –

DR. METZLER:  — to be.

MR. MARTIN:  — go ahead.  Go ahead.

MS. RYE:  I think that the one place that we have to start when you talk about what the Democrat position has to change to – we have a situation where the party heads advocated for fairness in access, and I don’t think fairness in access is – is open just to the 5 – bottom 5 percent.  That’s not fairness in access for all.

MR. MARTIN:  Oh, I me- —

MS. RYE:  That –

MR. MARTIN:  — I mean I’m – I – here’s the deal.  I’m down for fairness in access, but what I’m saying is I’m looking at people who – looking at parents, and they have children who are going to absolutely –

DR. METZLER:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — sorry schools and not getting results.  And for me, it’s offensive when somebody says, “Hey, we’re working on it.  Give us some time.”  If my kid’s in the third grade, and you have a[n] eight-year plan, they’re then going –


MR. MARTIN:  — to be –

DR. METZLER:  It’s too late.

MR. MARTIN:  — 11th grade, or even done, by the time this is all over, and –

MR. PAGE:  Well – well, let’s be –

MR. MARTIN:  — and that’s – and that’s –

MR. PAGE:  — let’s be realistic –

MR. MARTIN:  — that’s the concern.

MR. PAGE:  — about this.  I – I – every time school choice comes up, I feel a sense of déjà vu all over again.  Roland, in the 1980s, polls were showing most urban parents – read “Black and Hispanic parents” – [chuckles] – supported the idea of choice as long as it didn’t take – or, vouchers, [as] long as it didn’t take money away from the public schools.  They support choice, and – and that is still true.  Yeah, overwhelmingly Democratic in their vote, but very much pro-choice.  You’re absolutely right.

It’s the teachers’ unions that have blocked vouchers from being implemented ac- — across the country, and [you?] know, that – that darned debate really hasn’t moved much since the ’80s, even though some places, like Milwaukee, Cleveland, sma- — other cities have gotten some voucher programs going, and it’s gaining in popularity.  It’s still true that – that the Democrats are the union party, and they’re not about to go –

DR. METZLER:  Right.

MR. PAGE:  — up against the teachers’ union on something like this –

MR. MARTIN:  Hold tight one s- —

MR. PAGE:  — and Republicans are the party that – that favors vouchers, but they don’t have those inner-city, urban parents in their ranks.