Cuomo announces new free college tuition initiative for middle-class households

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will propose on Tuesday a new free tuition program for students from families of modest and low incomes who attend a state college.

The funds will be earmarked for completing tuition payments by supplementing existing state and federal loan and grant programs, Cuomo administration officials said.

At the LaGuardia Community College in Queens on Tuesday, Cuomo appeared beside Sanders to announce his legislation which would provide college free of charge to qualifying NY residents. Sanders had proposed his own national free-tuition program when running for the 2016 Democratic Party nomination for president.

The New York Times first reported about the plans, to be called the Excelsior Scholarship. According to The Journal News, Cuomo's office has until January 17 to present his budget plan, and state legislature would have to approve it as part of the budget for the fiscal year, which starts in April.

Cuomo's program would need to be approved by the NY legislature, and would cover the $4,000 to more than $6,000 in annual state college tuition costs, but not room and board. Besides mortgage debt, student debt is now the largest category of consumer debt in the country, with almost $1.3 trillion in loans outstanding.

In order for the Excelsior Scholarship to become a reality, it will require legislative approval of a program that could cost NY an estimated $163 million a year.

"Our job is to encourage every person in this country to get all of the education they can, not to punish them for getting that education", said Sanders, a Brooklyn native.

Throughout the presidential election, Democratic and progressive candidates occasionally sparred on the matter of college tuition. Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that state colleges may become free. Bernie Sanders by his side, Cuomo announced the proposal to hundreds of thousands low- and middle-income residents. "There are ways we could go further", he added, noting that the CUNY system already offers a program that pays for books, transportation and other needs of some of its students. "I urge NY legislators to pass this enormously important proposal, and become a model for the rest of the nation", said Sanders. New York's public schools are owed $4.3 billion in state funding, based on the state's own Foundation Aid formula. But paying for such an education has at the same time become much more hard, due to high tuition costs and lingering student debt, he said.

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