On Wednesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) reintroduced a proposal to make higher education free at public schools for most Americans — and pay for it by taxing Wall Street.
The College for All Act of 2023 would massively change the higher education landscape in the U.S., taking a step toward Sanders’s long-standing goal of making public college free for all. It would make community college and public vocational schools tuition-free for all students, while making any public college and university free for students from single-parent households making less than $125,000 or couples making less than $250,000 — or, the vast majority of families in the U.S.
The bill would increase federal funding to make tuition free for most students at universities that serve non-white groups, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). It would also double the maximum award to Pell Grant recipients at public or nonprofit private colleges from $7,395 to $14,790.
If passed, the lawmakers say their bill would be the biggest expansion of access to higher education since 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Higher Education Act, a bill that would massively increase access to college in the ensuing decades. The proposal would not only increase college access, but also help to tackle the student debt crisis.
“Today, this country tells young people to get the best education they can, and then saddles them for decades with crushing student loan debt. To my mind, that does not make any sense whatsoever,” Sanders said. “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.”
Debt activists expressed support for the bill. “This is the only real solution to the student debt crisis: eliminate tuition and debt by fully funding public colleges and universities,” the Debt Collective wrote on Wednesday. “It’s time for your member of Congress to put up or shut up. Solve the root cause and eliminate tuition and debt.”
These initiatives would be paid for by several new taxes on Wall Street, found in a separate bill reintroduced by Sanders and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) on Wednesday. The Tax on Wall Street Speculation would enact a 0.5 percent tax on stock trades, a 0.1 percent tax on bonds and a 0.005 percent tax on trades on derivatives and other types of assets.
The tax would primarily affect the most frequent, and often the wealthiest, traders and would be less than a typical fee for pension management for working class investors, the lawmakers say. It would raise up to $220 billion in the first year of enactment, and over $2.4 trillion over a decade. The proposal has the support of dozens of progressive organizations as well as a large swath of economists.
“Let us never forget: Back in 2008, middle class taxpayers bailed out Wall Street speculators whose greed, recklessness and illegal behavior caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, life savings, and ability to send their kids to college,” said Sanders. “Now that giant financial institutions are back to making record-breaking profits while millions of Americans struggle to pay rent and feed their families, it is Wall Street’s turn to rebuild the middle class by paying a modest financial transactions tax.”