The media and establishment Democrats are celebrating the fact that New York is about to become the first state to give “free college” to students who come from middle-class families. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) touted on Medium that the Excelsior Scholarship would allow 940,000 middle-class families to attend a state or city college free of charge as long as they went full time.
However, both progressive and moderate Democrats are privately bashing the plan — with one elected Democrat Assemblyman saying, “Everything he’s been doing since he was elected was to run for president.”
Cuomo wants you to think otherwise. “(Excelsior) will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019,” Cuomo wrote in Medium on Sunday. “Scholars must be enrolled in college full-time and average 30 credits per year (including Summer and January semesters) in order to receive the funding.”
That’s not exactly the full story.
In most parts of the country, $125,000 for a family of four is solid middle-class income, but not in most parts of New York City and the surrounding counties. Back in 2013, The New York Times reported that someone would need to make $166,000 in Manhattan to enjoy the same purchasing power as $70,000 nationwide.
So where did the $125,000 for New York State come from? Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis told Red Alert Politics that Cuomo’s team copied the number from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign that promised free public college for families making $125,000 annually by 2021.
Skoufis is a pragmatic progressive from the Hudson Valley who told Red Alert Politics that Cuomo’s plan is “smoke and mirrors.”
“It’s being advertised as free tuition, but the Excelsior Scholarship only stands to benefit 32,000 undergraduate students. But there are over 800,000 in state and city schools,” Skoufis said. “That’s only 4 percent.”
The Assemblyman said that he understands how grateful those 32,000 students are for the program but for the majority of students believe the program doesn’t go far enough.
During the budget process, Skoufis proposed three alterations to the bill including raising the cap on family income to $150,000 a year. His argument being that the average New York public school teacher makes $77,000 annually, a married couple both of them educators, wouldn’t be able to qualify under Cuomo’s plan.
“Sometimes in legislation, you have to settle for a half-of-a-loaf, this is more like a tenth-of-a-loaf,” he continued.
Unauthorized immigrants and graduate students will not qualify under Cuomo’s plan, and the $136 million scholarship doesn’t help with the cost of room, board, fees, meals, or textbooks.
Students receiving federal Pell Grants, New York Tuition Assistance, or scholarships must use those first before they can access Excelsior.
Even more conservative Democrats in the Assembly were also blasting the bill, one told Red Alert that he was forced to vote for it because it was placed in the overall 360-page budget, and a vote against Excelsior was a vote against senior centers.
“This bill has very little to do with students and is 100 percent about (Cuomo’s) presidential ambitions,” the Assemblyman said.
Another assemblyman complained that cuts were made to programs including the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association to push forward Cuomo’s education plan that doesn’t even cover nearly as many students as he’s claiming.
It seems that Cuomo isn’t nearly as ambitious as fixing the problem of higher education as he is with running for the White House.