COLUMBUS — Arguing that Ohio is losing ground when it comes to an affordable college education, the Democratic candidate for governor on Wednesday called for the creation of college savings accounts for every kindergartner in the state.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said he would also boost support for financial aid and make it easier for graduates to refinance college debt. He said these investments should be made before the state pursues more tax cuts.
“At a time when [a college degree is] more and more necessary, we’re actually moving backwards,” he said, standing in the hot sun outside Columbus State Community College. “Right now the average tuition and fees at a four-year public college in Ohio are 6.2 percent higher than the national average, and for community colleges, they’re 21 percent higher.”
His state plan for college savings accounts would parallel a program enacted under his administration in Cuyahoga County where the county opened accounts for all 5-year-olds with a government-funded opening balance of $100. The child and family members can then make voluntary tax-advantaged deposits to the account, withdrawing money only for an approved higher-education expense.
“What it does on a psychological level for the child is it says you have a future beyond high school,” Mr. FitzGerald said.
Gov. John Kasich last week signed a law continuing implementation of new funding formulas rewarding public colleges and universities more for the number of students they graduate rather than the number they enroll. The plan was worked out in conjunction with the schools.
The two-year budget capped annual tuition increases at 2 percent a year or $188, whichever is more. The University of Toledo recently approved a $188, or 2.39 percent increase, after voluntarily freezing tuition last year. Bowling Green State University has frozen tuition for the coming year after a 2 percent hike last year.
“If Ed FitzGerald’s track record in Cuyahoga County is any indication of how he would mismanage the state’s higher education system, taxpayers and students beware!” said Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf. “Today FitzGerald called for nearly $200 million in new state spending on top of the $2.1 billion he’s already proposed with no way to pay for it besides raising taxes.”
Mr. FitzGerald insisted that investing in such programs does not translate into higher taxes.
“I’m not running on a platform to increase taxes,” he said. “That may frustrate Republicans because they want to put me in that box.”
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