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United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he supports a federal plan that would forgive student loans after 10 years for people in public service.[/media-credit]

Student loan debt would be completely forgiven after 10 years of public service under a proposed plan by a top federal education official, which would also strive to make the United States the number one producer of college graduates within the decade.

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a talk on college affordability at Madison East High School Wednesday, focusing on several different reforms he said are necessary to improve the country’s education system by making schooling more affordable.

Shortly after his appointment by President Barack Obama in 2009, Duncan helped introduce a plan for the income-based repayment program.

Under the proposed plan, student loan payments would be reduced for college graduates in low-paying jobs, and loans would be forgiven after 10 years for persons in certain public service occupations, such as teachers, police officers and firefighters.

“If you’re getting paid more money, you pay more back, and if you’re getting paid less money, you pay less back,” Duncan said. “All your debt would be erased. We’re trying to remove that financial impediment.”

Focus on the growing student loan debt problem was brought to the national stage three weeks ago when a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found student loan debt in the country had reached a total of $1 trillion and surpassed total credit card debt for the first time in the country’s history.

Duncan also supports Obama’s goal for the United States to produce the highest percentage of college graduates by the year 2020. The United States is currently ranked 16th in the world.

While Duncan mostly focused on reforms to education policy at the federal level, he also warned states cutting their education budgets are seeing a lower quality form of education that ends up costing more.

However, after the recent implementation of the budget repair bill that cut education funding in the state, some groups are saying these cuts are not hurting the state and are instead improving the system by saving teachers’ jobs.

Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction unveiled data that showed jobs in the state’s public schools had decreased by more than 2,300 positions this year.

According to the MacIver Institute, a free market capitalism think tank, a closer look into this data shows that the three districts responsible for the bulk of these reductions were Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville, only three of the state’s 15 largest districts that did not use parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms, according to a statement.

MacIver said by refusing to mandate the reforms, the districts missed out on opportunities to save millions of dollars and became responsible for more than 42 percent of Wisconsin’s staff reductions.

Another focus of the event was decreasing the country’s high school dropout rate, which Duncan said currently stands at 25 percent.

Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dan Nerad echoed Duncan’s concern over the achievement gap, or difference in performance between groups of different socioeconomic statuses or racial identities, and how it was affecting graduation rates.

“A big part of tackling this issue is catching it early. We’re now seeing a lot more of these early programs, half in our schools and the other half out in the community and private sector,” Nerad said. “I’m glad someone else is losing sleep over the achievement gap because it truly is the issue of our time.”