Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would make college and university tuition-free for most people living in the United States.
The legislation would allow for families that earn less than $125,000 in yearly household income to pay zero in tuition costs for students who are going to community colleges or to four-year public colleges and universities — providing free higher education for approximately 80 percent of households across the U.S. The proposal would also allow for no tuition costs at institutions that primarily serve students of color (for example, historically Black colleges and universities).
In addition to lessening the financial burden of tuition for families, the bill would also double the maximum Pell Grant amount to $12,990, allowing qualifying students to use those grants to pay for non-tuition expenses, including housing. Dreamers, or individuals living in the U.S. who were brought here from other countries as children, would also qualify for free tuition and grants.
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The bill would be financed through taxes on Wall Street imposed via small fees on stock trades and other financial transactions. A 0.5 percent tax would be applied to all stock trades, with a 0.1 percent tax on bonds and a 0.05 percent tax on derivatives to help fund the costs of the program. Overall, it’s expected that such fees could create $2.4 trillion in revenues over the next decade.
The legislation offered by Sanders and Jayapal goes beyond what the Biden administration is planning to include as part of its infrastructure bill when it comes to educational expenses. Within that bill, the White House is hoping to fund free community college and universal prekindergarten, but it would not make tuition at four-year public universities free.
Many have called on Biden to also issue an executive order to instantly end student debt for thousands of Americans who are currently struggling with paying for their previous or current higher education costs. Pressure from progressive activists for the president to do so may have had some success, as Biden is reportedly looking into issuing such a directive.
But Jayapal is urging the president to go further.
“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 Washington congresswoman said in a statement.
Sanders agreed, stating that, “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.”
The Vermont senator further explained that granting free tuition to whoever wanted and qualified to go to college would create “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,” Sanders added.