The announcement that President Joe Biden is set to raise taxes on the rich to fund child care and education in his American Family Plan is a bold step toward a course correction that the nation has needed for far too long.
Education is on the minds of our nation’s leaders — and rightly so.
Earlier in the week U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from the state of Washington, introduced the College for All Act to realize the dream of a college degree to millions of working-class children.
The legislation would make the most substantial federal investment in higher education in the modern history of the United States and its transformative potential is on par with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965.
While the Biden administration reviews how much student debt the president can cancel without Congress, the College for All Act will end the debt spiral in which too many working families find themselves. (Coincidentally, the bill is modeled directly after the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force proposal and the Plan for Education Beyond High School that President Biden campaigned on.)
“In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” Sanders said in a statement released Wednesday. “If we are going to have the kind of standard of living that the American people deserve, we need to have the best educated workforce in the world. It is absolutely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans do not get a higher education each year, not because they are unqualified, but because their family does not have enough money. In the 21st century, a free public education system that goes from kindergarten through high school is no longer good enough. The time is long overdue to make public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free for working families.”
Jayapal noted: “While President Biden can and should immediately cancel student debt for millions of borrowers, Congress must ensure that working families never have to take out these crushing loans to receive a higher education in the first place. … The College for All Act will free students from a lifetime of debt, invest in working people, and transform higher education across America by making community college free for everyone and eliminating tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000.”
The legislation, if passed, would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students, and allow students from families earning less than $125,000 a year to attend public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free. Also, it would guarantee students from families earning less than $125,000 a year can attend tuition-free and debt-free public and private, nonprofit historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific islander derving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions. The bill makes an annual $10 billion federal investment to cover student-support programs at these under-funded institutions.
The College for All Act doubles the maximum Pell Grant to $12,990, allows students to use the money to cover living and nontuition expenses, such as books and housing, and expands grant eligibility to Dreamers.
Also, the legislation triples federal TRIO and doubles GEAR UP funding to serve millions of additional low-income students, students with disabilities, and first-generation college students in their pursuit of a higher education.
According to Sanders’ office, the federal government’s share of the cost of eliminating tuition and fees at public institutions is set at 75% with states paying the remainder. But the legislation includes an automatic stabilizer to increase that share to 90% in the case of an economic downturn.
Akin to what Biden is thinking with the American Family Plan, the act would be funded on the backs of the rich — a strategy Sanders has long advocated for. The College for All Act is paid for by the Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act (also reintroduced by Sanders this week) that puts a tax of 0.5% on stock trades, a 0.1% fee on bonds, and a 0.005% fee on derivatives. The tax would raise up to $2.4 trillion during the next decade. Rep. Barbara Lee will reintroduce the companion for the tax legislation in the House of Representatives.
College must be made available to any person who wants access to it. While politics will certainly guide the debate, our contention is that Sanders and the president are right in opening doors to everyone.