On the heels of the federal government’s $1.2 trillion plan to help students with student loans get out of debt, a group of California school districts are asking voters to approve a $50 billion statewide program to help those who can’t pay their bills.
But they’re facing stiff opposition from some state lawmakers who say the state is not doing enough to help struggling students.
The state’s school finance department estimates the program will cost $50 million to $80 million a year, and that will include the costs of providing help and paying teachers.
In San Francisco, where the state’s largest school district has already struggled to find enough cash to pay its teachers, state Rep. Kevin Castel said the money would be better spent on other programs, including funding for community colleges, which are the biggest providers of education.
San Francisco County Supervisor Rebecca Kaplan said the proposal would make it harder for people with limited income to pay for their own education.
She said students with a college degree or higher would need to borrow at least $200,000 a year to be eligible.
Kaplan said the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) already has enough money to cover student loans, so the program is unnecessary.
She also questioned whether the money will help many students whose families can’t make the monthly payments.
She said the district already has the resources to help pay teachers, but they need help with other costs.
“If you have to borrow more than $200 per month to pay your rent, and your kids don’t have a car, you might be in trouble,” Kaplan said.
She questioned why California needs a new program.
The Legislature’s recent bill to provide $2,000 in state aid for student loans and other financial aid for parents of students with low incomes passed the Assembly and the Senate last month.
Kapla said CalSTRS already has sufficient money to pay teachers and provide other services to students who can barely make their monthly payments.
“But we are in the middle of an economic downturn and the current plan doesn’t have enough resources to continue to provide support for our families,” she said.
A new law in the state that requires school districts to provide financial aid to students with certain debt levels is also in the works.
It would require districts to use the money to help lower-income students afford college.
State Sen. John Burton, a Democrat who represents parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, said he is skeptical the state will be able to provide enough money without raising taxes on some people who are already struggling financially.
The bill would require school districts and local governments to provide students with money to repay the interest on their loans, as well as help with paying for other expenses, such as groceries, car insurance and child care.
Burton said the bill is needed to ensure more students can get the support they need and afford college, and he said it’s unclear if the state and other states will provide enough funding.
“I have a concern about the state of our state as it relates to this program,” he said.