Sen. Greg Clausen: Improving Minnesota’s Educational System

When the 2015 Legislative Session convened in January, my priorities included improving Minnesota’s educational system and helping make higher education more affordable. I’ve authored a number of initiatives that will move Minnesota towards those goals.
PATHWAYS TO POSTSECONDARY. The bipartisan Pathways to Postsecondary Bill invests $24 million over two years to allow more schools to offer dual enrollment programs. The program allows high school students to take free, college-level courses through partnerships between Minnesota high schools and colleges. Students take college classes at their high school, are taught by trained high school teachers, earn college credits, and can still maintain their involvement in school activities. This program has been proven to improve student completion of postsecondary education.
This can save students thousands of dollars by earning college credits while in high school and help school districts keep their per pupil funding. In other programs, such as PSEO, when high school students take classes at a college campus, the higher education institution receives most of the state funding the school district would otherwise receive. Some high schools face financial hardship when large numbers of their students attend college during their junior and senior years of high school. The Pathways to Postsecondary program would help alleviate that problem in many districts.
529 SAVINGS PLAN. This legislation would provide a new tax subtraction and new tax credit for qualified contributions made to a Minnesota 529 College Savings Plan. Beginning with Tax Year 2015, the legislation would allow up to $3,000 in contributions made to a Minnesota college savings plan to be deducted from federal taxable income. The contributions must be made to Minnesota’s 529 plan–amounts rolled over from other college savings plans would not qualify for the subtraction.
The bill also creates a new tax credit of up to $500 for college savings plan contributions. While the tax subtraction is not limited by income, the credit is: those with lower incomes would be eligible for higher credits, with the credit completely phasing out for incomes over $160,000 a year. The credit is not refundable, but it is transferable – any unused portion of the credit is required to be deposited into the taxpayer’s college savings plan up to the $500 limitation. This is particularly valuable to lower income earners who often don’t have any tax liability and, therefore, cannot take full advantage of a credit’s worth.
LOAN FORGIVENESS FOR MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS. Rural and under-served areas of Minnesota present unique challenges for health care access. There is an ever-increasing shortage of medical personnel in rural areas; transportation and distance barriers contribute to an increasing economic destabilization of rural healthcare services. As a result, many doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel have favored urban and suburban practices over rural areas.
To address this issue, my Loan Forgiveness for Medical Professionals Bill expands the state’s Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program for health care professionals willing to practice in high-need areas in exchange for having some of their student loan debt forgiven.
The purpose of the Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program is to recruit and retain quality health care professionals to needed areas and facilities in Minnesota and reduce student loan debt. This program will make it less burdensome for physicians and other health care professionals to practice in under-served areas, providing much-needed health care access to rural Minnesota.
STUDENT LOAN DEBT COUNSELING. Legislation for a pilot project to provide student loan counseling for borrowers who are delinquent on their student loans is also under consideration. The bill would appropriate funds to partner with nonprofit organizations with experience in providing student loan counseling, who employ certified financial loan counselors and have multiple locations throughout the state.
The debt counseling would target borrowers to help them better understand their student loan and repayment options, manage their loan repayments, and develop a personal budget based on the borrower’s financial situation including income, expenses, and other debt. A baseline appropriation of $1.2 million in funding would allow the pilot program to reach 2,400 individuals who are near or at the default stage in their loan repayment delinquency. I believe this bill will help student borrowers become better equipped with the tools to prevent student loan debt from being an inhibitor to the growth of Minnesota’s economy and a barrier to the borrower’s life goals, for which they sought higher education in the first place.
If you want additional information on the status of these bills and others, please email me at sen.greg.clausen@senate.mn. Follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/senatorclausen and twitter at @SenGregClausen. You can reach me at 651-296-4120 or write to 303 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Greg Clausen
Greg Clausen lives in Apple Valley and represents District 57 in the southern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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