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Another Popular Progressive Proposal That Conservatives Want To Sand-Bag: College-For-All

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

This morning, Bernie (in the Senate) and Pramila (in the House) introduced the College for All Act. Their transformative bill would make community college free for everyone and eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 (nearly 80% of American families). Pramila's statement called it "the most substantial federal investment in higher education in modern American history" and noted that it "will end the debt spiral that too many working families find themselves in. This will ensure that America never returns to a debt crisis like the one happening right now in which more than 45 million people hold over $1.7 trillion in student loan debt."

The Seattle congresswoman, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, acknowledges that Biden "can and should immediately cancel student debt for millions of borrowers [and that] 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."

In his statement, Bernie said that "a higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. 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."

This resonates with me personally because I come from a working class family that was unable to finance my college education. I applied for Cornell and asked for a scholarship. I was accepted and offered a partial scholarship, but not enough to keep me from having to borrow way too much money. Luckily for me, back in the 1960's, state colleges and universities were, for the most part, still free. I chose Stony Brook in New York. I took out a small loan to pay for my room and board, which I supplemented by selling marijuana, eventually turning myself into a major marijuana wholesaler and making enough money to pay back my loans-- and finance a trip to Europe that lasted nearly 7 years.

As if addressing my own problems from the '60s, Bernie's and Pramila's legislation would also double the maximum Pell Grant to $12,990, allow students to use the money to cover living and non-tuition expenses such as books and housing. It also expands grant eligibility to Dreamers and triples federal TRIO and doubles GEAR UP funding to serve millions of additional low-income students, students with disabilities, and first-generation college students.

Alexandra Hunt is running for a Philly congressional seat held by corporate Democrat Dwight Evans, a faker who pretends he's "progressive," but hasn't even cosponsored this legislation. "This policy," Hunt told us this afternoon, "is truly transformative and is opening doors for millions of Americans, which is exactly government should be doing. Education is our right, not a for-profit industry. Even if my opponent does not, I support this piece of legislation, and will continue to support similar pieces of legislation in Congress. In addition to free college and the expansion of Pell grants, I’d like to add that formerly incarcerated individuals do not have access to Pell grants due to their carceral record. This must be amended with this legislation to make Pell grants available to all who need that financial support. This exclusive measure in Pell grants contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline and limits young adults exposed to that pipeline the availability of opportunity. Lastly, the United States has put too much of an emphasis on academia and higher education as the only way to 'climb the opportunity ladder'. I, personally, fell victim to this and am still carrying the burden of my school debt. With free public college, we must also increase trade school options as well. The ability to thrive in America should be available to all citizens regardless of their job or economic status, not just the wealthy few."

Pramila's office also noted that "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. However, the legislation includes an automatic stabilizer to increase that share to 90% in the case of an economic downturn. The College for All Act is paid for by a <>Wall Street speculation 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 over the next decade.

Washington state progressive, Jason Call-- who is also running against a corporate Dem who isn't co-sponsoring the bill, told us he supports the bill and thinks it could be better: "While I support the general intent of this bill, and in the absence of something better I would of course vote for it, I don’t like the means testing aspect. Public college should be free, end of story. It’s an investment in the future regardless of income level. Means testing is always an arbitrary and unfair delineation. I believe in universal programs. It’s no surprise that corporate Dem incumbent Larsen has not signed on to this. His goal is to keep wealth in the hands of his donors, hence his support of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform bill which eliminated the possibility of shedding student debt through bankruptcy. He wants you to go to college, but he wants you to pay for it for the rest of your life. Again, nobody should have to go into debt for an education.

Fairfax County progressive Ally Dalsimer is also a supporter, in contrast to her district's incumbent, corporate Democrat Gerry Connolly. "Forgiving student debt for those of us who are not wealthy," she told us, "would be a HUGE boost to our economy, giving working people more money to spend on housing, food, and consumer goods. We all know that higher education serves as a ladder for socioeconomic mobility, and that a college degree results in greater economic benefits especially for marginalized groups. We need legislation that forgives debt and enables people to attend public colleges with incurring debt, and we need to expand funding for HBCUs and minority serving institutions. More importantly, though, we have got to ensure that our children start on a level playing field, with all kids getting free high-quality early learning and pre-K. The reality is that we need free college and debt elimination, but if kids can't graduate high school, then free college isn't even part of their life discussions. Unlike my opponent who supports neither of these bills, I fully support both the Sanders/Jayapal bill AND the Universal Childcare and Early Learning Act."

"As someone who struggled to pay for college and is still working to pay off student loan debt, said Houston progressive candidate Charles Thompson, "I understand how vital the College for All Act is for so many people living in this country. This important piece of legislation would increase access by making college more affordable, especially for those living in the 18th Congressional District of Texas, where the poverty rate is 22.5%. All of our representatives should make it a top priority to remove economic barriers for their constituents. Instead, corporate Dems and establishment members such as Sheila Jackson Lee are maintaining those barriers by not supporting this important piece of legislation."

The bill's original co-sponsors are AOC (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Ro Khanna D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Juan Vargas (New Dem-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Nikema Williams (D-GA).

UPDATE: Nikema

This morning, Nikema Williams told us that "It's obvious why conservatives are opposed to The College for All Act. It would make higher education accessible for all Americans, provide a path to success for low- and middle-income families, and ease the burden of the 45 million Americans saddled by college loan debt. It's about creating equitable access to education in a government that works for everyone-- a concept conservatives never seem to grasp."

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