Democrats unveil plan for tuition-free college amid student debt crisis

As President Biden considers executive action to forgive up to $50,000 in student loans for each borrower, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington are introducing new legislation on Wednesday that, according to them, would help meet the soaring costs of higher education.

If passed, the Colleges for All Act would make community colleges and trade schools free for all students. It would also make public four-year colleges and universities as well as public nonprofit institutions serving minorities — such as historically black colleges and universities — tuition-free for all students from families earning less than $125,000. $ per year.

“If we are going to have the standard of living that the American people deserve, we must have the best educated workforce in the world,” Sanders, an independent who caucus with Democrats, said in a statement. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans don’t go to college every year, not because they aren’t qualified, but because their families don’t have enough money.”

The proposal comes as some Democratic lawmakers urged the president, who initially backed $10,000 in student loan relief, to forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt. More than 44 million Americans are burdened with student loan debt, and total debt topped $1.7 trillion last year. Proponents say the move would relieve millions of debt-ridden Americans and spur economic growth. Critics question the fairness of the decision and say it does not address the university’s underlying high costs.

The new proposal would double Pell’s maximum federal grant to $12,990, up from $6,495 currently, and allow students to use the money to cover other college-related costs like housing and books. The amount of the grant would also be tied to inflation and extended to eligible Dreamers, people who were brought into the United States illegally as children.

Their proposal would also triple federal funding for programs that help identify and provide services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds — low-income students, first-generation students, or people with disabilities. That would double the money for Gear UP, the scholarship program that helps prepare low-income students for college.

To make these colleges free, the federal government would cover 75% of tuition and fees while the states would pay the remaining 25%. The plan would also increase the federal government’s share to 90% in the event of an economic downturn.

In an effort to pay for the proposal, Sanders will also reintroduce legislation on Wednesday that imposes a tax on transactions with 0.5% stocks, 0.1% bonds and 0.005% derivatives. According to the senator, the plan would raise up to $2.4 trillion over 10 years. Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California is set to reintroduce tax legislation in the House.

The College for All Act has been endorsed by at least eight unions and more than two dozen national organizations, including progressive organizations such as Justice Democrats and MoveOn.

“A successful transition to adulthood is a critical measure of well-being for children and youth,” Children’s Defense Fund President and CEO Reverend Starsky Wilson said in a statement supporting the initiative. . “With 6 out of 10 American jobs requiring an education beyond high school, our kids won’t be able to thrive without those doors wide open.”

The legislation reflects part of Mr. Biden’s educational platform during the election campaign. In the election, he called for community colleges and other trade schools to be free for two years and for public colleges and universities to be free for families earning less than $125,000. His platform also included the doubling of Pell grants. But the plan still faces a run-in in Congress, including how it will be paid for as Democrats hold a slim majority in the House and the Senate is split 50-50.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and the Reverend Raphael Warnock of Georgia sent a letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona urging the Department of Education to remove federal student loan borrowers from default after COVID relief measures halted payments and interest amid the pandemic.

Robert P. Matthews