Op Ed

Why Does GOP Oppose Student Debt Reform?

Republican legislators still resist bill allowing students to refinance loans.

By - Jun 5th, 2017 12:15 pm
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Dale Kooyenga

Dale Kooyenga

On a party-line vote, Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance voted against an amendment to the 2017 state budget offering a common-sense solution to help Wisconsin’s student loan borrowers. The measure, proposed by Democrats, would have created a state authority to help student loan borrowers to refinance at lower interest rates, just like you can with a mortgage.

Why would these Republicans oppose helping solve an economic crisis directly impacting nearly 1 million state residents?

It’s clear from the empty platitudes, misinformation and misdirection heard from the GOP as they engaged in the debate that when it comes to student loan debt, they just don’t get it.

Consider the statement of Rep. Dale Kooyenga, who represents many of the wealthy Milwaukee suburbs: “The statement that was just put out there that nobody can work their way through college anymore. … I mean that is just not true. … Students are out there working their way through college.”

It certainly is true that legions of college students do work summers, and also hold jobs during the school year to help pay for their education. But with average cost for a year of tuition, room, board and books running roughly $20,000 annually at University of Wisconsin schools, one cannot work a low-wage job for a summer and cover tuition and living expenses at a public, state university.

With a state minimum wage stagnant for nearly a decade and tuition hiked by double digits by Republicans in their first budget after taking complete control of state government, this is more of a fairy tale than ever.

The Republican co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, Rep. John Nygren, added: “This whole dynamic about the debt. Guess what? If you don’t borrow, you don’t have the debt.”

On top of cutting public support for higher education and increasing tuition, Nygren and his cohort from 2011 to 2016 provided essentially no new resources for state financial aid programs for students. That meant the awards received by students failed to keep pace with rising costs and tens of thousands more students who were eligible for help received none.

State Rep. Mary Felzkowski lent a rhetorical hand by adding, “What we’re saying to kids today is, what is the return on investment of that education? … Am I going to spend $100,000 to start out at a position that’s paying $30,000 a year.”

Is she saying that students who need to take out loans to go to school should not be allowed to become teachers or social workers? Well, maybe. After all, it was Felzkowski who authored a budget provision, subsequently repealed by her embarrassed GOP colleagues, to eliminate the requirement that public school teachers in Wisconsin have college degrees.

The nearly 1 million student loan borrowers and their families all across Wisconsin know there is a crisis. They worked hard to get their education and they took on the personal responsibility to pay for it. But they are stuck in a system that is not treating them fairly — for example, preventing them from lowering their monthly loan payments by refinancing at lower interest rates.

Whatever it is — partisan-driven obstruction, ideological intransigence or ignorance of the challenges facing recent generations of graduates — it’s no excuse for failing to act when presented with common-sense solutions to the economic crisis of student loan debt.

Scot Ross is executive director of One Wisconsin Now.

This column was originally published by the Cap Times.  

Categories: Education, Op-Ed, Politics

3 thoughts on “Op Ed: Why Does GOP Oppose Student Debt Reform?”

  1. I have no argument with improving the debt relief atmosphere for current debt holders but I do have a viable way for prospective students to cut their costs.
    The first two years of college course work are pretty much the same regardless of where you take them. Attending classes at the two-year campuses around the state as a commuter allows students to live at home, keep their local part-time job and get a good idea how college differs from high school in a nurturing environment.
    You can express which state college you want to finish your four-year degree and the school will guarantee your credits will transfer.
    I’m sure that the romanticized version of college is somewhat diminished in this script, but it’s a sensible alternative to working half your life to pay off your student loans.

  2. Mary Kay Wagner says:

    This is what happens when big money dominates the political process. We have legislators who are out of touch with the will of the people they are supposedly representing.They don’t have to worry about re-election because they are in safely “gerrymandered” districts immune to opposition. We don’t have representative government here in Wisconsin. We are ruled by an oligarchy not concerned with the common good but what is good for them. Oligarchies generally bring the whole system down because they are top heavy. You can see it happening here in Wisconsin. The unfettered Walker administration has spent inordinate amounts of money on economic development, tax breaks for the wealthy and still Wisconsin is near the bottom in job and economic growth. On top of that we continue to see net brain drain from our graduating college students and a continually shrinking middle class. These are all indicators of a poorly performing economy; an economy that is not business friendly. It is long past time that we get back to the noisy, messy and essential process of democracy where all voices–all political persuasions are heard–and compromise is the honorable way of governing.

  3. AG says:

    I strongly agree that there are many options for students to work their way through school to at least reduce the amount of borrowing, attend less expensive schools, and go to school nearby to live at home. All of which can drastically reduce expenses and brorrowing.

    That being said, there are so many up sides to government subsidized or backed loans to keep interest rates low. Loan servicers still make money, the state doesn’t lose money, students save money and have more disposable income. The only losers are the large banks and loan providers… but I think the benefits to the rest f the economy far outweigh those consequences.

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