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New York lawmakers approved tuition-free college for the middle class

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UPDATE 6:15 a.m. EST:

New York lawmakers approved a budget on Sunday that includes tuition-free state college for families who make $125,000 or less a year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the plan back in January

The plan will cost the state an estimated $163 million. It only applies to New York families. 

Cuomo celebrated the bill's passage in the state Assembly on Saturday.

ORIGINAL STORY: Student loan debt has inched its way to the second highest consumer debt category--beaten only by mortgage debt, Forbes reported. The 1.3 trillion debt crisis is forcing some states, like New York, to approach higher education with refreshed strategy.

On late Friday, budget negotiators struck a deal that could make the Big Apple the first state to cover residents' tuition at four-year public universities, the Washington Post reported.

The $163 billion state budget includes the Excelsior Scholarship, which provides tuition to any New Yorker accepted to one of the state's community colleges or four-year universities if their family earns less than $125,000 per year.

The initiative was proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January--tapping into a frequently cited talking point used throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. 

“Today, college is what high school was it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it,” Cuomo said in a statement Saturday. “With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

The scholarship initiative will be phased throughout the next three years. It will first accommodate for residents whose families make up to $100,00 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

According to Cuomo's office, the New York State Assembly as well as the state Senate are expected to vote on the measure in the upcoming days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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