Walker's College Affordability Package passes through committee
GOP moves bills targeting student debt forward without support from Democrats
By Emily Hamer, The Badger Herald
A package of Republican bills that aim to make college more affordable passed through committee Thursday, with all five Democrats voting against it.
The package of bills would deduct student loan interest, increase grants for tech schools, provide emergency grants and increase internships.
David Boardman, spokesperson for Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, author of one of the proposed bills, said Walker’s package is an important step to make college more affordable for Wisconsin students.
Boardman said one of the most significant aspects of the package is a bill that would provide grants for students who are faced with costly emergency situations. He said Wisconsin is the first state in the nation to fund a program like it.
Students faced with expensive crises such as car repairs would be able to fill out a short application, provide proof of the expense and, if approved, receive the emergency grant in no later than five days, Boardman said.
But, Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said more significant measures should be put in place to combat the $1.3 trillion of national student loan debt and more than one million student loan borrowers in Wisconsin.
“I think that the governor’s plan is a band-aid on a national crisis and a state crisis,” Shankland said.
Boardman said Democrats tried to put an amendment into the affordability package to allow for student loan refinancing, but the measure was not added.
Shankland said the most immediate way to change the student debt issue is to allow them to refinance their loans. She said “higher ed, lower debt,” the bill that would allow for this, would save students hundreds of dollars that could be invested back into the economy.
“I think that [refinancing] is the number one way to help student loan borrowers and help solve this crisis,” Shankland said.
Boardman, however, said there is no evidence student loan refinancing actually helps students because in other states, it has not always led to lower interest rates. Students would also need to have a certain credit score, a certain income level or a cosigner, which not all students may have, he added.
Boardman said another reason “higher ed, lower debt” was not included with the College Affordability Package was because it’s too costly. He said it would have about a $108 million fiscal impact and that taxpayers should not be on the hook for that price tag.
Other provisions of the bill package include a program to increase student internships, and another program to increase student knowledge about loans.
Boardman said these programs will help students be more independent.
“We want to help students help themselves,” Boardman said.
Shankland said students need more help. She recently drafted a bill, to be proposed within the next two weeks, that would increase need-based financial aid for students. She said 34,700 technical school students and 1,600 University of Wisconsin System students qualified for financial aid, but did not actually receive it.
Boardman said even though Walker’s affordability package isn’t the perfect solution to solving student loan debt, it is still a good measure that takes steps in the right direction.
“We can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good,” Boardman said. “These are good first steps to take and we recognize that this isn’t going to solve the whole problem at one time, but we have higher education leaders that support these.”