Rep. Pramila Jayapal celebrates the announcement of the College for All Act at a press conference in D.C. Photo courtesy Jayapal’s office

Free College for All? Jayapal and Sanders Announce Bill to Make it Happen

“This is not a radical idea.”

In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders made free college tuition a central tenet of his presidential campaign — an idea so wildly popular, particularly among students and professionals saddled with some of the nation’s $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, that the Democratic Party establishment took up the charge, too. Hillary Clinton first pitched it last summer. Since then, not much has happened. Or rather, the opposite has happened: President Donald Trump’s proposed budget slashes funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $9.2 billion and cuts several programs designed to help low-income students go to college.

But this fight is far from over.

On Monday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sanders, flanked by other Democratic Congresspeople including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Keith Ellison, announced the College for All Act. It would, if passed, make all public colleges and universities in the country tuition-free for any students from families earning up to $125,000 a year — thanks to a federal-state partnership that would require the feds to put up two dollars for every state dollar, Jayapal said in an interview with Seattle Weekly. That’s about 80 percent of the U.S. population, she said. It would also make all community colleges tuition-free regardless of student or family income, triple the amount of federal funding currently available for work-study programs, and cut student-debt interest rates in half.

As with Sanders, it’s an idea that Jayapal said has long been at the top of her legislative priority list.

“We believe that it is not normal, the situation we’re in,” Jayapal said, referring in part to the fact that it is increasingly difficult to find a living-wage job with just a high school diploma. But then, when people do go to college, they’re often stuck with loan payments for decades. What Jayapal and Sanders say the bill will do is take the country back to a time when public universities were basically free — a time when the U.S. graduated more people from higher educational institutions than any other country in the world.

“This is not a radical idea,” Sanders said during Monday’s press conference in Washington, D.C. “In 1965, the average tuition at a four-year public university was just $256 dollars. … If they could do it in the 60s, we can do it now.”

Though some might (understandably?) argue that such a thing will never pass in today’s GOP-controlled Congress, Jayapal insists that higher education is not a partisan issue. “If you’re in business, you know you need more skilled workers. You know you need to invest in that workforce,” she said. Investing in education “will pay us back.” She pointed to her time in the Washington state senate, when a bipartisan group of legislators agreed to cut the state’s four-year college tuition costs by 15 to 20 percent. And states across the country are making moves like this, including the predominately Republican state of Tennessee, which, after making community college free for recent high school graduates, is now pushing for free community college for all adults.

Jayapal and Sanders have proposed funding the College for All Act with a tax on Wall Street speculation (a.k.a. risky short-term bets), something Sanders proposed early last year. “That’s what we would advocate using to pay for it,” Jayapal said. “But frankly, the real question is: Do you believe this is an important investment? The Republicans have come up with plenty of money [for other things such as] a trillion dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest four percent. I believe we should be spending those dollars on investing in our young people, in our future.” And, she said, “I think there really is a lot of potential for it to pass.”

If the people help out, that is. Both Sanders and Jayapal encouraged their constituents to host rallies at college campuses across the country, to call their representatives, to organize. “You, and millions of other young people, have enormous power,” Sanders told the room in D.C., which was filled with members of the United States Student Association.

“We’re going to have to create the political faith and the political will to demand that we take on this crisis,” Jayapal said. “This is a crisis that doesn’t just affect Democrats. It doesn’t just affect feel-good liberals. This kind of debt is a drain on our economy.” Some workforce reports in Washington state, for instance, suggest that there is a significant gap between the number of skilled jobs available and the number of people qualified to fill them. “People can put aside their partisan politics. This is something that can affect everybody.”

More in News & Comment

Maru Mora Villalpando stands outside of the Seattle Immigration Court after her first deportation hearing on March 15, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Anti-ICE Organizer Stands Defiant at Her Own Deportation Hearing

Hundreds gathered in support of Maru Mora-Villalpando outside of Seattle Immigration Court.

Suburban and Rural Students Join the Call for Gun Control

What the National School Walkout looked like outside of Seattle.

Garfield High School students stand in silence to protest gun violence. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Seattle Students Take Part in the National School Walkout

Garfield High School students pay tribute to the Parkland victims by rallying for gun control.

Issaquah will not be housing a supervised consumption site like the facilities found in Vancouver, B.C. Photo by Nicole Jennings
Reproductive rights marchers during the 2017 Seattle Pride Parade. Photo by Bobby Arispe Jr./Flickr
Seattle Abortion Providers Weigh in on Reproductive Parity Act

The newly passed state legislation will cover abortion services for private insurance holders.

A pro-immigrant sign at the 
                                2018 Women’s March in Seattle. 
Photo by David Lee/Flickr
Can Immigration Issues Be Fixed at the County Level?

King County establishes new commission to support immigrant and refugee communities.

Photo by Taylor McAvoy
No Longer Silent: Sexual Assault Survivors Push Legislative Change

Seeking systematic reforms, victims spoke up this legislative session.

Photo by Nicolas Vigier/Flickr
Legislators Come to Agreement on Deadly Force Reform

An agreement between lawmakers, activists, and police alters and passes the I-940 ballot initiative.

Namasgay participants gather at a local meetup. Photo courtesy of Frank Macri
Making a Home for Spiritually-Minded LGBTQ Folks

Namasgay hosts local events for queer people seeking greater self-actualization.

Most Read