State lawmakers in 10 states push debt-free college options

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Lawmakers in 10 states launched a legislative push Monday intended to make debt-free public college a priority of the 2016 election.

In a teleconference, the group of Democrats announced plans to introduce resolutions in the early primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, the political battleground state of Ohio and in Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Missouri, South Dakota and Hawaii.

The lawmakers said that with rising college debt near crisis levels in the U.S., they hope the measures jumpstart a national conversation on the topic and provide momentum to existing or future bills. At least three of the lawmakers involved are 30 or younger.

The resolutions assert that a well-educated workforce is essential to the country and that, while student debt is high, “public investment in higher education pays off.” It says the G.I. Bill resulted in “a 7-to-1 return on investment for our national economy and that workers with college degrees earn more money, pay more taxes, and rely less on government services.”

The Democrats’ effort, organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, advocates a three-pronged approach that includes funneling more federal aid to states, giving more financial help to students and finding ways to creatively contain costs. The PCCC modeled the state resolutions on a pair of resolutions that have been introduced in Congress.

Kayla Wingbermuehle, who’s directing the group’s campaign on debt-free college, said all three major Democratic presidential candidates are on board and “the progressive strategy now is to go deep, unifying the Democratic Party around debt-free college and ensuring that there’s an undeniable mandate in November of 2016.”

Republicans also are working on ways to reduce college debt.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich, a Republican presidential contender, convened a task force on college affordability earlier this year. The group came back with recommendations to cut costs that included handing dorms and cafeterias over to private operators, collaborating on health care costs and providing more digital textbooks and study materials. Colleges and universities in the state also are working together at Kasich’s instruction to create joint budget goals that eliminate duplication that can add to the state’s higher education costs.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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