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Maine looks for student debt remedy

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers are seeking to tackle the problem of mounting student debt in their next session, including exploring plans that could make college tuition free for students who agree to pay back the state after they graduate and get a job.

A panel of Maine legislative leaders advanced bills Wednesday introduced by state Senate leaders that were designed to encourage more Maine students to attend colleges and universities by reducing costs.

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‘‘Some people who’d love to be able to pursue higher education are just scared by the prospect of getting through school and being saddled with a huge student debt,’’ said assistant Senate Republican leader Roger Katz of Augusta.

Katz wants the state to examine a pilot program being developed in Oregon that would allow students to go to school tuition- and loan-free. Students would have 3 percent deducted from their postgraduation paychecks for 24 years, money that would go into a state fund that would then pay for future students.

If the project is approved, Maine would be the first state to implement such a program.

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