What’s your first priority?
Our first priority is to fix No Child Left Behind. The Republican proposal to fix NCLB would give states the option — not mandate — to take federal dollars and let those dollars follow children to the schools they attend. We want to expand choice, but my view is that the federal government shouldn’t mandate it. … Republicans would [also] transfer back to states the responsibility for deciding whether schools are succeeding or failing. Tennessee, Texas or New York would decide what the academic standards would be, what the curriculum would be, what to do about failing schools and how to evaluate teachers.
Do you support the Common Core State Standards?
I support giving states the right to decide whether to [adopt] the Common Core or not.
What about higher education? There’s a lot of pressure to hold institutions more accountable for the $200 billion they get in federal aid and to bring the cost of college down.
The cost of higher education is more affordable than people think. At a community college, average tuition is $3,600. At a four-year public institution, it’s $8[,000] to $9,000. Many students can get a Pell Grant they don’t have to pay back, up to $5,000. We lend $100 billion every year in student loans at an interest rate of about 4 percent to people with no credit history. Tennessee is the first state to say two years of community college is free. I expect more states to do that.
I’m [also] working with [Colorado Democratic] Sen. Michael Bennet to take the 108-question student-aid application form, known as FAFSA, and reduce it to two questions: ‘What’s your family income?’ and ‘What’s your family size?’ … The complexity of the form is discouraging students from attending college. So the greatest barrier to more college graduates is this federal application form.