Senate and House Democrats try again for debt-free college

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (KBTX) - The Debt-Free College Act was reintroduced by Democrats in the House and Senate Wednesday in an effort to shrink the number of Americans graduating college with student loans.

Americans held over $1.5 trillion in student loans in 2018, according to Federal Reserve data.

“We tell our young people to do everything right. To go to school. To get the grades. To pursue a higher education. And then we have a system that basically punishes them financially for doing everything that they’re told to do. And that’s upside down,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), who is leading the legislation on the Senate side.

If passed, the bill would create a partnership between states and the federal government to help students pay for college. Every dollar of a state’s higher education appropriations would be matched by the federal government, which the bill’s supporters said could incentivize states to increase higher education funding.

And unlike other proposals to help curb the high cost of college, like making it tuition free, the Debt-Free College Act includes all costs associated with going to college.

“For a lot of people, tuition is only 30 to 40 percent of the total cost of attending college. So even if tuition were free, people have to take out loans so they can exist. So they can pay rent. So that they can eat. So they can have a cell phone and internet connection and buy books. And so, dealing with the whole cost of college is what this bill is all about,” Schatz said.

The bill was introduced on the house side by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI). He said he is hopeful the legislation will get bi-partisan support.

“This really address all the costs that a student would have. And it also has, again, that shared responsibility aspects that I think make it popular, that go across political lines. So I think it has a lot of potential,” said Pocan.

When asked where the money will come from on the federal side, Schatz said it was too early in the process to know.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are supporters of this legislation, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).