08-22-2019 Columns

Be alert for opportunities when preparing for college costs

Now that summer is winding down, it will soon be “back-to-school” time. When children are young, your logistics for the new academic year may involve little more than a trip to buy school supplies. But if you’d like to send your kids (or grandkids) to college someday, you need to plan far ahead to meet the financial demands. And, as part of your planning, you also need to be on the lookout for all opportunities to help pay those sizable college bills. Specifically, you’ll need to be ready to take action in these areas: Financial aid – You should start thinking about financial aid at least a year before your child heads off to college. For example, you can begin submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on Oct. 1, 2019, for the 2020-21 academic year. And if the past is any guide, you’ll always need to remember that Oct. 1 date for the next school year. The FAFSA helps colleges and the U.S. Department of Education evaluate your financial need and determine how much financial support your child requires. And since a lot of financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s a good idea to submit your forms as soon as possible once the application period opens. Scholarships – Colleges and universities offer their own scholarships, but you’re not limited to them. In fact, you might be surprised at the number and variety of college scholarships available to your child or grandchild – but to find them, you may need to do some digging. Find out what’s offered from foundations, religious, ethnic or community organizations, local businesses and civic groups. Also, ask the high school guidance office for information. Your own employer might even offer small scholarships. You can find more information on scholarships on the U.S. Department of Education’s website. College-specific investments – You might also want to consider an investment designed to help you save for college. You have several options available, each with different contribution limits, rules and tax treatments, so you’ll want to consult with a financial professional to choose an investment that’s appropriate for your situation. Community colleges – Not every bachelor’s degree needs to begin and end at an expensive four-year college or university. Many students now fulfill some of their “general” education requirements at affordable community colleges before transferring to a four-year school – often saving tens of thousands of dollars in the process. Paying for college is challenging. After all, for the 2018-19 academic year, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, and room and board) was $21,370 for in-state students at public four-year colleges or universities; for four-year private schools, the corresponding expense was $48,510, according to the College Board. And college costs will likely continue to rise over the next several years. But, as we’ve seen, by being proactive and having a plan in place, you can go a long way toward coping with these expenses and helping your loved ones enjoy the benefits of higher education. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Supporting record school funding

As summer break is ending, students are preparing for the school year. Students are anticipated to return to classrooms this year with the backing of record state funding and a renewed emphasis on workforce preparation. Michigan’s current budget makes the largest K-12 investment in state history, investing $14.8 billion in K-12 education this year alone. Even more promising, next year’s plan for K-12 education is expected to top $15 billion. As a former teacher, I know firsthand the importance of making sure our students have access to the education they need to build a better future for themselves. Because of this, I’m advocating for additional resources for our local schools to fulfill that responsibility. While discussions are taking place between the legislature and the governor to finalize next year’s budget, I wanted to discuss some details of the House-approved budget plan that I supported in June. The plan invests more in every student, while closing the gap between lowest- and highest-funded districts. The proposal would also increase our per-pupil commitment by $180 per student, raising the state’s minimum foundation grant to $8,051/student. If the House-approved plan moves forward as outlined, all of our communities’ school districts will see an increase in school aid funds beginning Oct. 1. This is in addition to the largest annual per-student increase in 15 years, which schools are already receiving in the current fiscal year budget. Our commitment to education is much deeper than just the basic foundation allowance. The House-approved plan also boosts funding for career and technical education (CTE) by more than $78 million. We’re also increasing the CTE funding to $75 per student and providing $21 million in equipment grants for these specialized programs across the state to better prepare Michigan students for successful careers in high demand fields.


Labor Day reminder: Drive sober or get pulled over

It is hard to believe we are just days away from the Labor Day holiday weekend, and with that, another national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign. It should seem obvious by now, but there is no good reason to drive while intoxicated. The potential consequences of doing so are drastic, expensive, and could even be fatal. Nationally, in 2017, one person died every 48 minutes in a drunken driving crash, and these preventable deaths account for approximately one-third of all traffic deaths each year. Despite the illegality and inherent risks, those statistics remain virtually the same year after year. According to the Michigan State Police (MSP), the percentage of alcohol-related driving fatalities in our state is approximately 11 times higher than fatalities in all other crashes, and the serious injury level is about six times higher. During last year’s Labor Day holiday, MSP reported 12 fatal crashes, with six crashes involving alcohol. In addition to risking life and limb, driving while intoxicated is a serious financial risk. On average, the MSP states a DUI can set you back $10,000 in attorney fees, fines, court costs, lost time at work, higher insurance rates, car towing and repairs, and so forth. This Labor Day weekend — but really all of the time — if you are going to be drinking, please, for the sake and safety of yourself and others, do not get behind the wheel. Plan ahead for a sober ride home, whether that be a designated driver, calling a friend or family member to pick you up, or hailing a taxi or ride-share service. And if you see or suspect someone of drunken or drugged driving, contact law enforcement. Labor Day weekend should be a fun time with family and friends to enjoy the last days of summer. Let’s keep it that way. Drunken driving is 100-percent preventable. Don’t make a bad choice and put yourself and others at risk.


Back to School wellness event

Summer is drawing to a close, which means that parents are getting their kids ready to head back to school. Beyond buying school supplies and new outfits, parents should make sure their kids are healthy and ready to learn when getting back to the classroom. The Berrien County Health Department will host a “Back to School Bash” on Tuesday, Aug. 27 from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. at their office at 2149 E. Napier in Benton Harbor to help parents get their kids ready for a healthy school year. The Health Department will provide free hearing and vision screenings, immunizations required for school entry, healthy snacks and giveaways for kids of all ages, as well as information about WIC, parenting education, and many other programs and services that can benefit families in Berrien County. Local law enforcement, fire departments, Michigan Child ID, the Berrien County Great Start Collaborative and other agencies will also be present at this event. The back to school season is a busy time for everyone, but the Berrien County Health Department is committed to helping Berrien County families have an easier time getting back into the swing of things for a happy and healthy school year. In order to help keep children healthy and make sure they are ready to learn, Michigan state law requires that children receive certain immunizations before entering school. Additionally, children entering preschool and Kindergarten are required to have their hearing and vision screened. Parents can find more information about these school requirements and the Back to School Bash at www.bchdmi.org or by calling 269-926-7121.


Combating the opioid epidemic in Southwest Michigan

The sad truth is that Michigan’s opiate overdose death rate far exceeds the national average, and southwest Michigan has the unfortunate distinction of high rates of opiate and methamphetamine use with the highest methamphetamine lab rates in the state. That’s why I remain committed to fighting the opioid epidemic and doing what I can to find solutions. Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to the Department of Health of Human Services advocating for federal grant money for Western Michigan University’s Michigan Youth Prevention and Recovery from Opioid Youth Disorders (MY-PROUD) program, and I was pleased that last week HHS approved the request. The main goal of the program is to assist with recovery and wellness for those who are at-risk opioid users with the help of highly-qualified treatment providers. This funding will also further opportunities that allow students to participate in hands-on educational experiences addressing opioid abuse and help those who are in immediate need. The opioid crisis does not discriminate. No family is immune and all too many of us have experienced the devastation and loss firsthand. Every demographic, race, and socioeconomic status is impacted, and we’re working hard to fight it every day. To learn more about other important legislative issues, follow me on Twitter at @RepFredUpton or visit my website: upton.house.gov. You can also call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/ Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

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