Bipartisan Promise Zone expansion passes Senate

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Sen. Goeff Hansen

Sen. Goeff Hansen

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, on Thursday praised the Senate’s swift approval of legislation to expand and improve Michigan’s Promise Zone program. The initiative, based off the extremely successful Kalamazoo Promise, allows local communities to pool resources and utilize tax increment financing to help all students afford a college education.

“Promise Zones provide an opportunity for students at a financial disadvantage to attend college or a vocational program,” Hansen said. “Having represented Baldwin when I served in the House, I have seen the positive impact their Promise Zone has had on the community as a whole. Muskegon Area ISD’s Promise Zone plans to begin awarding scholarships soon.

“Now, with the passage of these bills, Newaygo County RESA is one step closer to having a Promise Zone established and reaching their goal of increasing college access and degree attainment for all students.”

Senate Bill 539 (Hansen) and SB 540 (Ananich) would increase the number of Promise Zones allowed in the state to 15 and remove the current cap of 10 zones. They also would allow additional communities to pursue a Promise Zone designation by removing ones in which local support or resources have not come together or are no longer desired.

“We know that once Promise Zones are put into effect, they work,” Ananich said. “Students should not be missing out on higher education because they can’t afford it. Promise Zones are an important tool to address skyrocketing student debt and to build our talent pool that will help drive a successful economy for everyone.”

Last year, 62 percent of Michigan’s college graduates left school saddled with debt. According to a recent report from the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), the average Michigan college student graduated with $29,450 in federal student loan debt in 2014 — a nearly $11,000 increase from graduates ten years prior.

Ananich has been pursuing an expansion of Promise Zones since his time on the Flint City Council. During his time in the Michigan House of Representatives and also last year in the Senate, he sponsored bills to add additional spots since several communities were on the waiting list.

“The enactment of Promise Zone legislation will be another tool for our students to be part of a more educated workforce and be able to compete in a global economy,” Hansen said. “This is part of Michigan’s comeback story.”

Recently, Brian Larkin, director of Core Initiatives at the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce, testified before the Senate Economic Development Committee to support the Promise Zone legislation.

“When you look at opportunities such as Promise Zones and what they bring to an area, they engage our current and future economy,” Larkin said. “It prepares the next work force, and we prepare more students for school and postsecondary education and training opportunities.”

The bills are now headed to the Michigan House of Representatives for consideration.