MADISON, Wis. — Audio provided to One Wisconsin Now by the group Young Invincibles reveals Gov. Scott Walker claimed to questioner “we need to look at people who already have high levels of student loan debt,” despite his abysmal record in Wisconsin for the more than 800,000 student loan borrowers. Walker made the remarks after a presidential campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa this weekend.
“When grading Scott Walker’s record on student debt and higher education, the question becomes: Is there a grade lower than F?” asked Scot Ross, Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now.
Gov. Walker’s record has been disastrous for student loan borrowers:
Hiking tuition and cutting state support for public education: In his first budget, Gov. Walker enacted an 11% tuition increase for University of Wisconsin schools. Under Governor Walker’s tuition hike, students have paid and will continue to pay hundreds of million in increased tuition. Walker has also cut state funding for the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Technical College System by nearly $700 million in his three state budgets — the latest $250 million cut to the UW — making Wisconsin unique as one of the only states in the country still cutting higher education investments.
Flat-lining and cutting state financial aid: Under Gov. Walker, state financial aid programs for eligible students have received no new funds, even as double-digit tuition increases were signed into law. In addition, Gov. Walker phased out the Wisconsin Covenant program, which provided financial assistance to Wisconsin youth who met certain academic standards, signing into law a measure reducing state tuition assistance by $38 million over two years.
Refusing to help current borrowers: Gov. Walker let legislation die that would have helped current student loan borrowers refinance their loans and deduct student loan payments from their state taxes, just like you can with a mortgage. Despite entreaties from legislators, Walker refused to call a special session to revive legislation to help student loan borrowers. Walker also failed to put the proposal in his just signed biennial budget which slashed the UW System again.
“Scott Walker could have provided relief to hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers in Wisconsin by signing into law the ‘Higher Ed, Lower Debt’ bill to allow borrowers the ability to refinance their loans like they can a mortgage,” said Ross. “But instead he gutted the University of Wisconsin and technical college system, cut financial aid by tens of millions of dollars and students have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in higher tuition.”
Audio of Walker’s comments which neither mention his cuts to higher education, nor his indifference to the state student loan refinancing legislation, is available here.
“I would do two different parts. One, I think we need to look at people who already have high levels of student loan debt, so we need to help relieve some of that burden. But the other thing we have got to do in conjunction with that – that I think is really important – is help put in an incentive to keep tuition down. In my state, I am proud of the fact that we froze tuition four years in a row. Because really the heart of why the loans are going up so much is because tuition was going up three to four times the rate of inflation. So one of the ideas we’re looking at – we’ll probably come out around the time school starts up and announce a plan – is have higher education institutions take on not all but a small percentage of that loan so that they have an incentive to keep their tuition down and people aren’t taking on debt they can’t afford to pay. So even if it is like 4-5%, that would keep them in a position where they would want to raise it.”
“Students and borrowers have done the right thing – they have worked hard and took on the personal responsibility of paying for their education,” Ross said. “After taking millions from the banking and finance industry, he’s standing in the way of allowing borrowers to refinance their student loans like you can with a mortgage or a car loan. His comments don’t change his record.”
In October 2013, Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) and Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) introduced common sense reforms including refinancing and a tax break for borrowers in their historic Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act. Despite having 54 co-sponsors, Walker’s Republican allies killed the bill. Walker later dismissed the Higher Ed, Lower Debt plan, questioning whether it was “more than just politics.” Mason and Hansen have reintroduced the legislation, which again has the co-sponsorship of every single Democrat in the state legislature.
“Scott Walker will say and do anything to get elected,” said Ross. “But on student loan debt, he’s flat out lying to the 43 million Americans, and their families, who have $1.3 trillion in debt.”