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Should higher education be free? Pramila Jayapal, Bernie Sanders push for free public colleges and universities

WASHINGTON, D.C – Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled the College for All Act on Monday. They say it would reduce crushing student loan debt.

The new legislation would eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for those making up to $125,000.

Jayapal said the estimated $600 billion cost of the legislation would be paid for by a separate bill to tax Wall Street speculation.

"By imposing a small Wall Street speculation tax of just 0.5 percent on stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives, the tax would raise at least $600 billion over the next decade. More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on Wall Street speculation and some 40 countries have already imposed a tax," Jayapal said in a release.

The bill would cut all student loan interest rates for new borrowers in half; enable existing borrowers to refinance their loans based on the interest rates available to new borrowers – less than 2 percent for federal loans made to undergraduates; and prevent the federal government from profiting off the student loan program.

"This isn't rocket science. #CollegeForAll is about creating a new normal where students are not expected to take on crushing debt," Jayapal tweeted after the announcement.

Jayapal said the average student today takes on over $30,000 in debt to get a bachelors degree from a four-year college or university.

In addition to eliminating tuition, the College for All Act would substantially reduce student debt by allowing existing federal aid to cover the cost of books, housing, transportation and the other costs of college; require the states and tribes participating in the program to cover the full cost of college for their poorest student; and increase federal investment in work study programs.

Public colleges and universities are already tuition free in many advanced countries including Germany, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

The bill has been endorsed by Washington Student Association, UW Graduate and Professional Student Senate, the United States Students Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the American Association of University Professors, the Asian American & Pacific Island Association of Colleges and Universities, the Service Employees International Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Nurses United, MoveOn.org and several other organizations.

"Higher education in America should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” Senator Sanders said. “If we are to succeed in a highly competitive global economy and have the best-educated workforce in the world, public colleges and universities must become tuition-free for working families and we must substantially reduce student debt.”