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Student Loan Debt Debated; Special Needs Advocate Recommends more Training for Educational Aides; Interview with Lori Greiner

Aired April 28, 2012 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Should you pay to send your neighbor's children to college? Good morning, everyone, I'm Christine Romans. Forgiving all student loan debt, the worst idea ever or the answer to middle class struggles?


ROMANS (voice-over): Ah, Graduation Day, a major milestone, a time of jubilation, or is it? When the music stops, reality sets in, $25,000 in student loan debt. College tuition up 368 percent in the past 30 years leaving students furious, and politicians making promises.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress needs to act right now to prevent interest rates on federal student loans from shooting up.

ROMANS: If it doesn't, loans subsidized by Uncle Sam double to 6.8 percent on July 1st, putting an even tighter financial squeeze on students. Extending the current rate would cost the federal government, and therefore the taxpayer, $6 billion, but it's something the president and his likely GOP opponent agree on.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fully support like to extend the low interest rate on student loans.


ROMANS: President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney both out this week courting the youth vote, both in favor of keeping interest rates low on subsidized loans, but some say that doesn't go far enough.

Let's bring in Andrew Ross. He's a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. He's also a leader in the Occupy Student Debt. And Will Cain, of course, is a frequent CNN contributor. Welcome to the program, nice to meet you.


ROMANS: I know you've had a very busy week. You say the student loan debt is morally unsustainable, and that we should forgive this debt. Isn't that essentially asking people to pay for their neighbor's education?

ROSS: I wouldn't put it that way, no. Education is a public good. And it's -- public goods are things that society benefits from as a whole. It's in our interest, our public interest to have an educated citizenry.

In the 20th Century we decided that we would fund high school education for everyone in this country. In the 21st Century society, if we're going to have a middle class, we have to fund higher education properly.

ROMANS: So use taxpayer money to just forgive a trillion dollars in student loan debt just like that?

ROSS: Well, we have a trillion dollars -- that's not the only thing I think our campaign stands for. Our campaign stands for free public education. We want this country to join the long list of other industrialized countries in the world that manage to do this. And none of them are as affluent as the United States of America.

ROMANS: And that's the other part of the big debate, should we be giving everyone a free education in this country?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, the professor describes education as a public good, but I would ask him to distinguish education as a public good that you say benefits society from, say, housing, it certainly benefits society for everyone to have a roof over their head, or water, or food for that matter. So are these public goods that should be provided to people free of cost?

ROSS: I think shelter is a public good, I think shelter is a human right, actually, according to the U.N. And education is not exactly in the same category as housing. The fact is, however, that our government increasingly wants to withdraw from its responsibility to fund higher education and will compel students who are supposed to be the beneficiaries to pay for it privately.

We have indebted citizenry as a result. This $1 trillion debt is going to multiply unless something seriously is done about it.

CAIN: You describe that as an immoral prospect that we used to rack up this debt. And you describe so many things now as public goods that presumably it would be immoral not to provide. And if your analysis stops there, these are highly desirable products, we should provide them to people, well, then, it's hard to disagree. But it begs one question, at whose cost? At whose expense?

ROSS: In this country, we used to have a much higher national priority for education. We had free public education systems in New York and California. We were much more like other industrialized countries in putting public education up front and center.

Over the last few decades, education has shifted much lower down that list of national priorities.

ROMANS: I want you to listen to something that Representative Virginia Foxx said, I mean, she is giving students, I think you could say, some tough love. Listen to what she said on the "Gordon Liddy Radio Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt, because there's no reason for that.


ROMANS: In fact, a third of students graduate with no debt, two- thirds of students graduate with about $25,000 on average. And if there's a job on the other end, technically, that should be a manageable amount of debt.

How much of this is personal responsibility?

CAIN: Well, it's entirely about personal responsibility. If a student makes a voluntary contract to take on a certain amount of debt, and we suggest that the average is about $25,000 that students come out of college with that level of debt, I don't understand why this is some kind of moral abrogation to say, you should not repay that contract which you made.

ROSS: If you want to talk about responsibility, let's talk about the lending industry. Students who are 18 years old, who are not old enough to drink, have lenders come at them with predatory loans, quite frankly, it's a predatory system, it's designed to prey upon very young minds.

ROMANS: But aren't 85 percent of student loans backed by the federal government?

ROSS: The government profits from them too. And the current reforms that President Obama is proposing out there in campaign trail are like putting a Band-Aid on a tumor and telling the patient to go home.

ROMANS: All right. We'll keep talking about it. We'll have you back. We'll talk about it again. We'll talk about just what responsibilities taxpayers have to education and if the federal government is actually fueling a bubble in tuition costs by making these loans so available.

We'll talk about that next time we have you on.

All right. The campaign trail ran right three college campuses this week, up next, we'll talk to four students about paying for college, finding a job, and rocking the boat.


ROMANS: College loans and the price tag of a college education. Hot topics on the campaign trail this week. University of Iowa was the last stop on President Obama's three-college speaking tour. The CNN Election Express followed the president to campus. Samantha Specht is a graduating senior at the University of Iowa; Manish Aggarwal is graduating this from Iowa's Carver College of Medicine, Brittany Caplin is also a graduating senior, and Patrick Grim is a junior at Iowa. Nice to see all of you, even though I'm a Cyclone, I welcome you to the program.

Brittany, let's start with you. You're graduating in a few weeks, student loan debt, I'm told, what, $25,000, that's about average at Iowa and nationwide. You attended the president's speech Wednesday. Is this an issue for you, this student debt issue?

BRITTANY CAPLIN, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA: Absolutely, I think that this needs to be one of the president's top platform issues moving forward. The cost of debt for our students is unbelievable. And it's difficult that we're going to need to be going into the job market with this burden on our shoulders. It's just unfair.

ROMANS: Patrick, you've got another year until graduation. You've got about $28,000 in student loan debt. You will by then. You're pre-law, Patrick, pre-law. Plan on going to law school, that means more loans. And I'm going to tell you, in the past four years, law school grads have faced sinking employment rates. I'm sure you've heard this. Rising tuition, difficult job hunts, it's all the talk on the campaign trail.

Did you ever reconsider your law bench based on what's happening in the economy and your decision to get a post-secondary degree?

PATRICK GRIM, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA: Well, unfortunately, it's sort of a lesser of the two evils approach. I'm a political science public policy major, those fields don't have a whole lot of hiring. So and unfortunately if I'm not looking at a STEM degree, I very much have to do a professional degree as opposed -- or as a means to actually ascertaining a salary in the future that will allow me to kind of afford these massive loans.

ROMANS: Yes. You're going to have to really hustle in the job market because there are a lot of other kids who are graduating with a law degree and there's not enough law jobs to do it, making that law degree work in some part of the economy that's growing.

And, Samantha, speaking about STEM, there's also health care and that's a growing part of the economy. You're a nursing major, no student loan debt. I wish I could ring a bell. Congratulations for you. But...


ROMANS: You're active in the college Republicans at Iowa.


ROMANS: Can you tell me a little bit about looking for a job and what you're saying on the campaign trail, what's important for you?

SPECHT: Well, I have a couple of interviews lined up already, although it's very competitive to get into a good (INAUDIBLE). And jobs are a huge issue for me. I think it's really important, students might come out of college with $25,000 in loans, but if they don't have a job to pay it off, what are they supposed to do?

ROMANS: I know, that's the flip side, if you don't -- gosh, if you don't have the job, but you still have loans, you're kind of in the same boat as someone who has loans but does get a job.

I want to talk to Manish, quick.

You're a medical student, so the price tag for your education is pretty high, but you're going to a great school for medicine and your earnings potential is high. So have you made that, I guess, cost- benefit analysis, have you gone through your undergraduate studies? I mean, you think you're going to be able to shoulder this, I assume?

So is the president resonating with you, all of this talk about student loan debt?

MANISH AGGARWAL, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA: I think it's very important that we talk about student loan debt, not only for myself but my classmates and other undergraduates who are facing a large price tag on their education.

I know for me personally, the necessity of having a job is paramount as I look to the next few years and farther on than that.

ROMANS: Yes, especially if you've got all that student loan debt. I want to listen to what the president had to say this week about I guess trying to appeal to kids like you, well, young people like you, he's basically been in your shoes, listen.


OBAMA: Michelle and I, we have been in your shoes. When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poor together. For the first eight years of our marriage, we were paying more in student loans than what we were paying for our mortgage.


ROMANS: So he has been there. Does that resonate with you? Samantha, especially you, you're a Republican.

SPECHT: Yes, it's nice to know that he has had student loans and that he's paid them off. But I don't think that student loans is the biggest issue that we should be concerned about.

ROMANS: What do you think is the biggest issue, Samantha?

SPECHT: I think we should be more concerned about the job market.

ROMANS: The job market.

SPECHT: I think rising education, rising education and the job market, if we can get those things under control, then people will be able to pay back their student loans. CAPLIN: But I also think that issue goes hand-in-hand with that, because, for instance, I'm a journalism and a political science double major, and a crucial part of being successful in my job market is to get an unpaid internship, or a low paid internship.

I can't look for that anymore because of the debt that I will have incurred over my time. So I have to look for a job that might not be as successful for me in the future for my field.

ROMANS: It's clear that the debt limits the choices that you have and that's what is so concerning to people, without a vibrant job market on the other end, I think that once the -- you know, getting the jobs fixed, no matter what demographic we talk to, getting the jobs fixed is the number one issue for so many people.

Brittany, Patrick, Samantha, Manish, thank you for joining us, come back again, we want to keep up to date on your progress and have a great spring there in Iowa.

Coming up next, should teachers who bully children be allowed to stay in the school system simply because of tenure? We look at one father's fight to change the system after he sent his son with autism to school wearing a wire to catch the teacher's bullying him. You won't believe what was on that tape.


ROMANS: We talked a lot about bullying on CNN and on this show. This next story is another horrifying example. It's about a boy with autism but he wasn't targeted by other kids. He was mistreated by his own teachers.

CNN's Mary Snow has the details.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ten-year-old Akian Chaifetz, says his father, was diagnosed with autism seven years ago. His father says his son's biggest struggle now is not his condition, but bullying by the classroom staff entrusted to care for him. Stu Chaifetz is documenting the bullying in a very public way online, hoping, he says, that other children won't suffer the same cruelty.

Chaifetz says problems started this year when he was told his son had punched a teacher and an aide.

STUART CHAIFETZ, NO MORE TEACHER/BULLIES: I have never seen him hit anybody, that just didn't make any sense.

SNOW: Frustrated by a lack of answers, Chaifetz put a recording device in his son's pocket during the school day. He was horrified to hear what was on it.

TEACHER: Oh, boy, knock it off.

Go ahead and scream, because guess what? You're going to get nothing until your mouth is shut.

Shut your mouth.

SNOW (on camera): What was your reaction when you first heard that tape?

CHAIFETZ: Well, when I -- that night when I started listening to it, I just shattered inside.

SNOW (voice-over): More than six hours were recorded. Chaifetz says the toughest part was listening to Akian ask if he could see his father.

CHAIFETZ: My son, when he transitions back from his mom and I, he lives with me full-time. He just has a little natural anxiety, he says, may I see dad after mom? Which is his way of asking to be reassured he's coming back home.

AKIAN CHAIFETZ: May I see dad after mom?


Did you go to see any books in the library or you just looked at sculptures...

(child crying)

TEACHER: Oh, Akian, you are a bastard.

A. CHAIFETZ: May I see?

TEACHER: You can't see.

SNOW: Chaifetz says he went immediately to his son's Cherry Hill School and credits administrators with acting quickly. In a statement the school superintendent said: "In February, upon receiving a copy of an audio recording, the district undertook a thorough and rigorous investigation and responded swiftly and appropriately."

She said there were specifics she couldn't legally address. Adding, "I want to assure our parents that the individuals who were heard on the recording raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district."

Chaifetz says he felt he had no choice but to go public.

CHAIFETZ: Every child is worthy of defense and respect, and that no one deserves to be treated with cruelty and to be humiliated. And that we who can speak for him need to stop it by changing the law, by exposing people who bully kids, and by publicly shaming them.


ROMANS: Mary Snow, thank you.

Stuart Chaifetz isn't alone, we did a search. We found incidents like this across the country. Chaifetz is now pushing for legislation that would remove any legal barriers to dismissing teachers who bully children, especially those with special needs. Joining us now from Los Angeles is Georgianna Kelman. She's a legal advocate for change in special needs education and she believes the system should be overhauled.

Welcome to the program. You know, this teacher, we're told, wasn't fired, but moved to another district. Tenure was to blame here. Mr. Chaifetz, of course, outraged over this. But he says he's not at war with the school district. He's fighting the people that actually bullied his son.

You say parents need to go to war with the district to see any real change.

GEORGIANNA KELMAN, SPECIAL EDUCATION ATTORNEY: Absolutely. I see this on my practice on a daily basis. What's going on here is there's two components here. First you have to deal with budget cuts. They don't have the appropriate type of aides qualified/certified to be in these classrooms.

Two, we have tenure. These teachers -- what tenure does -- I understand the reason for tenure, but a lot of these incompetent teachers cannot be removed from these classrooms because of tenure.

ROMANS: You have a child with special needs, right?

KELMAN: I do. Absolutely.

ROMANS: So you're a parent and you're also an attorney -- you're also somebody who represents families. A woman I know...

KELMAN: I represent children with special needs.

ROMANS: A woman I know whose son is on the spectrum told me, if you're not there, they don't care. That's the mantra of parents who will put their kids into public school and try to look for help. If you're not there, they don't care, you have to be constantly a fly on the wall. Is that true?

KELMAN: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Is that true?

KELMAN: It's true in some instances. There are some very -- and I don't want to say that there's -- that the system's completely broken. There are some very good teachers out there that care about these kids that their hearts are in this, but I also see a lot of teachers that don't care, that have become jaded.

It takes a very special person to teach special education children. However, you must be present in every way. Daily you must ask for meetings, you must to be in the classroom. You have to play an active role with your child when your child has special needs specifically. All parents should be involved, but a mother or a... ROMANS: Should special education teachers and aides, should they be paid more so we attract people who have all of those special characteristics you're talking about?

KELMAN: Absolutely. What's happening is budget crises. They're hiring people that are not qualified that maybe have Internet training. You need certified, qualified, seasoned specialists in these classrooms with these kids. You can't hire an aide that has no education, barely a high school degree, has no training whatsoever, is getting paid minimum wage.

These aides are in the classroom a lot of the time for the paycheck, but you need to have qualified, trained individuals in these classrooms in order to make sure that these things don't happen and the proper strategies are applied, and the children are treated correctly.

Across school districts all over the country, budget cuts are playing a huge, huge role in this.

ROMANS: Thanks, Georgianna. We did receive a statement from Kelly Altenburg, the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, teacher accused by the father of being present when his 10-year-old son was verbally abused. It says: "Mrs. Altenburg respects the privacy of her student who has been in her class and who she has taught during the last two years as well as the advocacy of the father. Mr. Chaifetz, however, has been disingenuous in his assertions and has failed to advise the public accurately, including the fact that for at least approximately one hour in the beginning of the day at issue, Mrs. Altenburg was not even in the classroom with Mr. Chaifetz's son."

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, our next is no stranger to the entrepreneurial world. She launched her first product back in 1996 for a million dollars, now runs a multimillion-dollar empire, Lori Greiner joins me next.


ROMANS: Do you have a million-dollar idea? With me now is a woman who knows a thing or two about turning ideas into multimillion- dollar businesses. This was Lori Greiner's first idea, a clear plastic jewelry organizer that holds a hundred pairs of earrings, keeps them from tangling. Now as the host on QVC, Lori is selling hundreds of her new creations, has become a $500 million brand. Lori is also a judge on ABC's "Shark Tank" where she coaches America's aspiring entrepreneurs.


LORI GREINER, HOST, QVC: I've been in the shopping channel world for 15 years. You talk like it's nothing. Most people fail that go on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not me, I don't fail.

GREINER: Yes, you will fail. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And she's honest. That's what we love.

Lori, welcome to the program.

GREINER: Great to be here.

ROMANS: What's the bridge between a really good idea and a profitable business? There has to be something between those two.

GREINER: Well, I was going to say there's lots of bridges and detours along the way. We really have to start out with a great idea and then you have to know all of the things to do to get there, market research, is it really a good idea? Can I make it? Is it going to be a good cost? Can I get it out there, selling it?

There's so many bridges you have to cross. But I do feel if you're strong and tenacious and you really do your homework and put it out there, you can get there.

ROMANS: The idea and your gut instinct is the first thing and then there is all this work to be done after.

GREINER: All this work to be done, yes.

ROMANS: Now you've been called a superstar inventor. What keeps your ideas flowing?

GREINER: Well, I think you're born that way. I think I have a natural mind for creating product and ideas. But then I also think I'm very driven. I really want to succeed. I want to make products that make people's lives better. And that keeps me going.

ROMANS: So the advice I guess for people in what I call the DIY economy, do-it-yourself job market, if there's ever been a time to start a business, take the idea that you've been kicking around for a long time and try to make it work, it's now, right?

GREINER: It's now. I also think it's any time. Because a good idea is a good idea. So whether it's a down economy or an up economy or somewhere in between, if you have a great idea and you're going to be passionate and put the hard work in, you will get there.

ROMANS: Lori Greiner, very nice to meet you. Thank you.

GREINER: Nice to meet you.

ROMANS: All right. That's it for us this morning. But the conversation continues. Find me on Facebook or Twitter. Our handle is @CNNBottomLine. My handle is @ChristineRomans. And this Thursday at noon Eastern time, Ali Velshi and I launch an online show, we're going to respond to your questions about all things money live, a live Twitter show. So follow us to find out more about that.

Back to CNN SATURDAY for the latest headlines. Have a great weekend.