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Wisconsin rolls out college affordability plan: more grants, tax breaks

By Amy R. Connolly
Wisconsin rolls out college affordability plan: more grants, tax breaks
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, seen here in the second presidential debate during his bid for the 2016 Republican nomination. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

MADISON, Wis., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced a series of legislative proposals Tuesday to make college more affordable and increase access to grants, but some criticized him for not including a proposal to allow refinancing of student loans.

Walker began crisscrossing the state Tuesday to unveil his multi-point program aimed at tamping down college costs, building on his four-year tuition freeze in the University of Wisconsin system.

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Senate Democratic leader Jennifer Shilling said Walker has refused since July to meet to discuss a student loan debt refinancing proposal that could potentially lower interest rates and payments.

The proposal comes as student borrowing becomes a prominent issue in state politics and the presidential campaign. Student loan debt has reached about $1.2 trillion nationally, with Wisconsin borrowers owing on average $28,810 after graduation.

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"After years of Republican budget cuts, tuition increases and financial aid shortages, Wisconsin now has the third highest number of college graduates with debt in the nation," Shilling said. "With over 800,000 Wisconsin residents owing more than $19 billion in student loan debt, Democrats want to make higher education a priority again and provide immediate relief to Wisconsin's hardworking families. Allowing individuals to refinance their student loans is a simple, no-cost solution to help ease the burden and grow our middle class."

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Walker's plan calls for:

- Eliminating the cap on the tax deduction for student loan interest.

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- Increasing state grants for technical colleges, including emergency grants for students in need

- Increasing internships as a path to employment

- Requiring all state institutions to provide financial literacy to students within the first semester

"With two sons in college, I know how important it is to ensure college is affordable for both college students and the working families of this state," Walker said. "One of the most important things we've done for higher education in Wisconsin is freeze UW System tuition for the past four years. This college affordability legislative package will build on the tuition freeze to continue to make higher education more accessible and more affordable for Wisconsinites."

Left-leaning One Wisconsin Now said Walker, who dropped his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential candidate in September, "continues to oppose a common sense plan" and "has come up with his most ridiculous excuse to date for his intransigence on the refinancing issue, blaming Connecticut."

Walker has argued that similar plans in Connecticut have resulted in higher interest rates.

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