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A Simple Idea: Free Education For All

With two new legislative initiatives, Senator Sanders is proposing to tax Wall Street speculators to guarantee all Americans a good shot at a college degree.

Blogging Our Great Divide
May 19, 2015

by Josh Hoxie

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced legislation today that would reduce the cost of college tuition to an amount that working families can afford. Free.

Sanders made a straightforward case for his groundbreaking legislation to a large crowd in front of the U.S. Capitol.

“It is a national disgrace that hundreds of thousands of young Americans today do not go to college, not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it,” Sanders told the supportive gathering. “This is absolutely counter-productive to our efforts to create a strong competitive economy and a vibrant middle class.”

With Sanders at the Capitol: Alexandra Flores-Quilty, the vice president of the United States Student Association.

“While I was in school, I worked multiple jobs and many times did not know if I was going to have the money to be able to return the following semester,”  Flores-Quilty noted. “I wasn’t able to graduate on time and I now have over $20,000 in student loan debt and my mother another $30,000. This is a burden my family will have to carry for decades.”

The cost of higher education in the United States has jumped over 1,200 percent since 1978.

Over the same timeframe, wages have stagnated for all but the richest Americans. Those richest, Sanders believes, ought to help foot the bill for increasing access to higher education.

The financial transaction tax that Sanders introduced today as standalone legislation would yield an estimated $300 billion and has won support from over a thousand economists and National Nurses United. The Sanders financial transaction tax, also known as the “Robin Hood tax,” would place a mere 0.5 percent levy on stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds, and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives.

These tax rates would have little impact on the the vast majority of American families. But they would help discourage speculative and risky behavior by Wall Street insiders.

The Sanders free public higher ed tuition legislation, titled the College For All Act, would provide two federal dollars to every dollar that states put towards education if the state agrees to reduce public school tuition to zero. The total cost of tuition that students pay at public colleges and universities runs about $70 billion.

The bill also includes a number of reforms students and education advocates have long sought. The bill reforms work study to better help students from low-income families, simplifies the financial aid application process, and enables students to access much lower interest rates on federal loans.

Most progressive higher education legislation beats around the bushes and avoids taking on the core issue behind the rise of student debt: not enough public investment. Those concerned that we can’t afford this investment need look no further than the excesses of Wall Street to see we have plenty of money in this country to invest in higher education, if we chose to do so.

With the College For All Act, Sanders is providing a bold vision for how this country could get serious about addressing the needs of young people and bringing America’s economy into the 21st century.

Josh Hoxie tracks the debate over the estate tax and other grand divide-related concerns for the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good.

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