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State Senate considers student debt relief

Breann Schossow, Wisconsin Public Radio

A bill that supporters say would provide student debt relief for Wisconsin residents is under consideration by the state Senate.

Cindy Riley is an elementary school music teacher and a mother from Janesville. She completed her masters degree in 2006. Riley says she and her husband thought long and hard about her return to school and ultimately went for it. But now, she says, the numbers are against them. Riley's children all have their own student debt, too.

“It's completely changed all our lives and I don't see a way ... for my husband and I, at this point of our lives, to pay it off,” Riley said, “but we will.”

Riley was one of a number of supporters that filled a Senate hearing room this week telling lawmakers how a bill meant to provide student debt relief would help them.

Among its provisions, the bill would allow borrowers to refinance student loans at lower interest rates — much like a home mortgage or auto loans — through the creation of the Wisconsin Student Loan Refinancing Authority. The legislation would also allow up to $6,500 in student loan payments a year to be tax deductible. Also, higher education institutes in the state that offer associate's degrees or higher would be required to provide loan counseling for its students.

State Sen. Dave Hansen is one of the bill's authors. The legislation is unique, and Hansen says they would love for Wisconsin to be the first state to do something like this. 

“We're dealing with something that's a national problem, but we definitely want to do it here in Wisconsin to move us forward,” Hansen said.

Nationally, student debt has rose above $1 trillion. Here in Wisconsin, around 753,000 residents have incurred student loan debt.