October 20, 2014

Student loan debt relief bill gets no GOP support

Student loan debt looks to be a large and growing problem for many Wisconsin residents. Thursday was a nationwide “Higher Ed, Not Debt Day of Action.” Legislation from state Representative Cory Mason would allow Wisconsin residents to refinance their student loans at a lower rate. But the bill from the Racine Democrat has no Republican support with the legislative session coming to an end.

“Just for an undergraduate degree, (it takes) almost 19 years to pay if off,” Mason said at a Capitol press conference. “But we’re hearing from people with professional degrees talking about taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, with no end in sight as to when they’re going to pay it off.”

Sol Newton is a UW Waukesha student who enlisted in the U.S. Army in order to continue funding his education. “Students should not have to go to war to afford a college education,” said Newton, who was making loan payments while deployed to Afghanistan. Newton is now financing his studies through the G.I. Bill but still figures to graduate with thousands of dollars in debt.

“I’m getting married in July, and when I think about having kids, I know that I’m still going to be paying off my debt the entire time that I would be trying to save up for their college education,” said Jeni Dye, and Dane County Board Supervisor from Madison. “I know that I’m not going to be in a position to help them, the way that my parents helped me.”

Mason said student loan debt impacts people in Democratic and Republican legislative districts, and that he’s even heard from GOP colleagues who have their own stories of high student loan debt. But none have agreed to co-sponsor his measure as the legislative session winds down.

“It is a multi-decade debt sentence,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross, whose organization has provided research into the impact of student debt. “Our research shows that for a four-year degree obtained here in the state of Wisconsin, you are paying for an average of 18.7 years at about $350 a month. All of that is being sent to banks, as opposed to being spent in the community.”