Columbus — Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald wants expand a college savings program he started in the Cleveland area to include all Ohio youngsters.
The Democratic gubernatorial hopeful also wants to increase state aid to needy college enrollees and find a way to allow Ohio students to refinance their school loans.
The three ideas were part of a college affordability plan FitzGerald unveiled June 18 during a press conference near the Statehouse, on the campus of a community college.
FitzGerald wants to set up savings accounts for every 5-year-old, with the state making an initial contribution and parents, guardians and others allowed to add to the balance in the years leading up to college enrollments.
Comparable accounts have been established in Cuyahoga County under FitzGerald’s administration, with initial $100 contributions from the county.
“We have to focus on saving for college at an early age,” he said. “… Our goal is real simple: We want Ohio to become the first state in the country where every single child, when they state kindergarten, has a college or educational savings account set up for them and held in trust for them until they graduate from high school.”
Additionally, FitzGerald wants to create an advisory commission to determine ways for the state to enable students to refinance their student loans to take advantage of lower interest rates.
“If you can refinance a business loan, if you can a home loan, you ought to be able to refinance your student loan to reasonable rates [so] people can still support their family and still repay,” he said.
FitzGerald also proposed increasing state financial aid for needy students, via more funding for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant program.
“We’re giving less money, in terms of real dollars, than we were a decade ago,” he said.
Republicans said FitzGerald’s plan amounts to more spending that would lead to higher taxes.
“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,” Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said in a released statement. “FitzGerald’s ‘tax and spend’ approach to state policy underscores, yet again, how unfit he is to lead our state.”
But FitzGerald countered such assertions, saying he would cut administrative and other costs to fund his plan.
“I’m not proposing raising any taxes,” he said.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.