Dems’ bill would ad­dress stu­dents’ fi­nan­cial strug­gles

Wisconsin Gazette - - Wigwag - By Lisa Neff Staff writer

Be­fore stu­dents were head­ing back to class and law­mak­ers head­ing home for re­cess, con­gres­sional Democrats in­tro­duced a leg­isla­tive pro­posal — the Aim Higher Act — in­tended to en­sure stu­dents a path to a debt-free de­gree or cer­tifi­cate.

The leg­is­la­tion at­tempts to ad­dress the fi­nan­cial strug­gles en­tan­gling stu­dents — and some­times their par­ents.

The mea­sure would:

In­vest in fed­eral stu­dent aid, help­ing make pub­lic col­lege more af­ford­able.

Crack down on preda­tory for-profit in­sti­tu­tions that target stu­dents and veter­ans with costly but poor-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tions.

In­vest in teach­ers with train­ing to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion.

Pro­tect and ex­pand the Pub­lic Ser­vice Loan For­give­ness pro­gram to sim­plify the loan process and make loans eas­ier to re­pay.

Mean­while, the Repub­li­cans’ PROS­PER Act would cut nearly $15 bil­lion from fed­eral stu­dent aid pro­grams and shift about $9 bil­lion in fed­eral money to­ward preda­tory, low-qual­ity, for-profit pro­grams.

In ad­di­tion, the GOP leg­is­la­tion does not deal with the cost of go­ing to col­lege.

The Democrats re­leased their bill with en­dorse­ments from dozens of groups and ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers, in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers and Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of State Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties, the School Su­per­in­ten­dents As­so­ci­a­tion, As­so­ci­a­tion of Young Amer­i­cans, Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Col­leges and the Thur­good Mar­shall Col­lege Fund.

In its en­dorse­ment of the Aim Higher Act, the Young In­vin­ci­bles said the leg­is­la­tion in­vests in “free com­mu­nity col­lege tu­ition, in­creased aid to start com­bat­ting crip­pling lev­els of stu­dent debt, a more bor­rower-friendly stu­dent debt re­pay­ment process and ex­panded stu­dent sup­port sys­tems like af­ford­able child­care for stu­dent par­ents.”

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­port es­ti­mated bor­row­ers’ 2017 stu­dent-loan debt at $1.3 tril­lion. Other es­ti­mates put the debt at about $1.5 tril­lion.

Peo­ple un­der the age of 50 hold nearly 85 per­cent of the debt but bor­row­ers over age 60 is the age de­mo­graphic grow­ing the fastest.

One Wisconsin Now, a group that calls Gov. Scott Walker the “worst gover­nor in Amer­ica for the stu­dent-loan debt cri­sis,” re­ported ear­lier in Au­gust that the num­ber of Wisconsin bor­row­ers over age 60 rose by 48 per­cent and their debt in­creased by 45 per­cent be­tween 2012 and 2017.

“Stu­dent loan debt is a clear and present multi-gen­er­a­tional dan­ger to the Wisconsin econ­omy,” said One Wisconsin Now pro­gram di­rec­tor Analiese Eicher in a state­ment en­cour­ag­ing Democrats to talk more about stu­dent debt.

A poll of 1,116 reg­is­tered Wisconsin vot­ers con­ducted by Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling in late 2017 for One Wisconsin Now found 79 per­cent sup­port “a plan to al­low stu­dent loan bor­row­ers to re­fi­nance their loans, just like you can with a mort­gage.”

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