An Assembly committee heard testimony Wednesday on six bills Legislative Republicans say would help ease the burden of student loan debt and make college more affordable, although some say the bills don’t go far enough.
Gov. Scott Walker announced his support for Republican authors’ college affordability legislative package earlier this week during his State of the State address. The package intends to make higher education more affordable for students through six bills.
The six proposals build on the current tuition freeze by increasing saving through full deductions of student loan interest on state income taxes; increasing emergency financial aid; increasing grant programs for students at technical and two-year UW colleges; pairing college students with internships to enhance skill development; and requiring colleges to inform students about their loans relative to current and projected student loan debt levels and education costs.
“This ... directly helps Wisconsinites that need it the most,” said state Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, in his testimony.
Democrats, who support a bill that would allow students to refinance their student loan debt, doubt that the legislative package will truly help the hundreds of thousands of people who currently have student loans or are paying loans back.
“This is a little too late. We have a generation of kids drowning in student loans,” said state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire. “The tax deduction will benefit 32,000 students but it will only be $100 to $200 in benefits.”
Republican authors stated they would not consider adding an amendment to the bills that would include the Democrats’ refinancing bill. According to Macco, who co-authored the tax deduction measure with state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, the Democratic bill would only treat the symptoms of college expenses and neglect the problem of students going into debt.
Walker and UW System President Ray Cross have also discussed exploring a program that allows students to graduate in three years, which could potentially reduce the cost of higher education and get students into the workforce faster.
UPDATE: A previous version of the story erroneously quoted state Rep. Dana Wachs as saying 22,000 students would be affected by the tax deduction bill. In fact, that number is 32,000 students. The Daily Cardinal regrets this error