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NY Gov's "Free College For Convicts" Plan Takes Heat


"It's absurd to me that you can refinance a mortgage or a business loan, but you can't re-finance a college loan? I don't think the government should be making money off the backs of students." ~ Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

As U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was urging President Obama to make refinancing student loans a top priority to ease the financial pain of graduates in over their heads during a stop in Plattsburgh, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was planning to fund college degree programs for prisoners.

Frequent Cuomo foe Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Rensselaer County Republican, responded on Twitter under the hashtag #KidsBeforeCons --- tweeting out quote "Spitzer: Drivers licenses for illegal aliens. Cuomo: College for convicts. Public outrage at both."    McLaughlin tells NewsChannel13:  "You have kids who have done everything right.  Studied hard and they are gonna go $100,000 in debt but someone in prison is going to get that same degree for nothing? It's outrageous."

McLaughlin suggests Governor Cuomo turn his efforts toward fully funding public schools.

Putnam County Republican Senator Greg Ball launched an online petition entitled:“Hell No to Attica University,” aimed against the proposal unveiled by Cuomo at the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.

Senator Mark Grisanti launched a petition of his own, "Say 'NO' To Free College For Prisoners."   The Buffalo Republican argues that the state should increase the availability of financial aid to traditional students before providing free college to prisoners. Grisanti wants to restore funding that would extend the state Tuition Assistance Program to graduate students. The Senator, in a statement, says: "I believe that we should put the needs of hardworking, law-abiding citizens who are positively contributing to society first, and I will continue to fight for the reinstatement of TAP funds before I even begin to entertain the idea of supporting this program.”

Grisanti announced Wednesday that his goal of 1,000 signatures was closing in on the 3,000 signature mark.   111th District Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara published this statement on his Instagram:   "I'm NOT Supporting the Governor's Call for Inmate College Program Expansion. Money that is being spent on higher education should address the current student loan debt crisis and ways to make college more affordable for hardworking families! "  He adds:  "When it comes to higher education, New York's priorities need to include finding ways to make college more affordable for hard-working students and their families, not criminals. At this point in time, too many of our hard-working New Yorkers are working second, even third jobs, just to pay for college. Or they're being forced to take on massive student loan debt."

There's been tongue-in-cheek chatter on social media about what kinds of crimes one might commit to earn a few years' incarceration and snag a free college education.  Assemblyman Phil Steck, a Democrat who represents Colonie, tells WNYT:  "All the statistics show that the middle class is declining economically, and one of the main reasons, quite frankly, is the high cost of college education."

The Cuomo administration is quick to point out that plenty of state lawmakers support the plan. The governor’s office says New York currently spends $60,000 per year per inmate, and the state’s inmate population has a 40 percent recidivism rate. The governor’s office says the plan, is modeled after a 15-year-old program at Bard that spends $5,000 per inmate with a recidivism rate of just 4 percent.

The state will issue a Request for Proposal from qualified educational associations in March.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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