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Coakley Pledges $225M In New Student Aid

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley campaigned Thursday with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren around the idea of making college more affordable, shifting her focus on the trail from early education to higher education.

Coakley and Warren joined Roxbury Community College President Valeria Roberson on the school's campus for a roundtable discussion with students and faculty where Coakley outlined a $250 million plan to boost financial aid and make it easier for students and families to save for college.

"I'm prepared to make that case that this is the gateway to the dream. If we're talking about really making education available, not just because it's good for kids and their families. It's good for the economy. It's where we're going to be able to full those jobs that we're creating here with those startups, that innovation economy, our health care growth, our social services growth. We talked about it yesterday. This is the place where we can align the skills people need with where the jobs are," Coakley said.

Coakley's proposal calls for investing an estimated $225 million into a "full need" financial aid program at community colleges to cover the remainder of tuition costs that a student can't meet with traditional financial aid alone. The attorney general also recommended making a $5,000 tax deduction available to families that contribute to 529 college saving plans. Her campaign estimated the college savings credit would cost the state an estimated $17 million to $20 million annually.

Coakley, who has also proposed $150 million in new spending on early education over four years, said she would look for ways to cover the cost of her higher education program with new revenues as the economy improves, and by finding efficiencies in government and making it an investment priority.

"We're about building a future. It takes education to build that future. But it takes investment. It's not free," Warren said, imploring students to become active and make their voices heard in the election.

"There's no daylight between us in this," Warren said of her and Coakley. "We believe in investing and educating the young people of the Commonwealth."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker was at Florian Hall in Dorchester on Thursday morning accepting the endorsement of the Massachusetts Corrections Officers Federation Union, and discussing the importance of community safety. He was joined by former Worcester County Sheriff and 2010 Democratic candidate for auditor Guy Glodis.

"Nice to know that the Attorney General now thinks this is important, but where was she when her colleagues on Beacon Hill were systematically cutting funding for higher education?" Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said in a statement. "Charlie put forth his higher education plan in June, and it will help Massachusetts students and families by reducing the cost of college by up to 25 percent.  While the Attorney General proposes more spending, Charlie proposes smart reforms that will make the system work better for students without needing a huge infusion of taxpayer dollars."

Baker's plan for higher education includes more internship opportunities, three-year degree programs and better coordination between high schools, community colleges and employers.

In touting its own plan, the Coakley campaign knocked Baker for authoring budgets while serving the Weld administration in the 1990s that cut funding for state colleges and universities. The campaign said Baker proposed a budget cut of $25 million for higher education in 1996, and "at least $30 million" in 1997.

The Baker camp noted that the GOP nominee, during his time as administration and finance secretary, proposed increases of $18 million to a state scholarship program that has been cut by $4 million over the last seven years. The Weld administration in 1999 also proposed reducing tuition on all higher education campuses by between 5 percent and 10 percent, according to Baker's campaign.

The Legislature in fiscal 2015 approved a budget that sufficiently funded the University of Massachusetts to avoid tuition and fee hikes, but did not include the funding requested by community colleges and state universities to similarly stave off tuition increases.

Roberson said at Roxbury Community College, her administration was able to avoid raising costs for students this school year, but said the school needs capital resources to continue updating facilities to adequately train students.

"We'll work in every way we can to make that investment, and I think for our community colleges making that investment is as important as UMass and our flagship, as well as UMass Lowell and UMass Dartmouth," Coakley said.

Coakley also said she would engage private universities in a discussion about keeping tuition affordable at those institutions as well.

Warren and Coakley also participated in a roundtable discussion on youth violence prevention at Roca, Inc. in Chelsea on Thursday afternoon.

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