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Someone smarter than me will have to figure out why the Republican Party is intent on inflicting pain on college students, graduate students, and higher education. Don’t they know that our economy depends on having an educated populace? Don’t they know that successful societies invest in generating new knowledge?
HIGHER ED GROUPS TRYING TO STOP A ‘SPEEDING TRAIN’: With the GOP’s tax reform efforts moving swiftly along, higher education groups are stepping up their efforts to persuade lawmakers to strip the plans of provisions they say would make college more expensive, such as a plan in the House bill to scrap deductions on student loan interest and tax as income tuition waivers for graduate students. The Senate is expected to vote on its plan as soon as today. “It’s a speeding train,” said Steven Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, the leading higher education lobbying group.
– Bloom said higher education is on high alert and will continue its campaign by writing letters, calling members of Congress and holding rallies and protests. “We have to keep running right through the finish line, and that’s what we’ll do.”
– Senate Republicans’ work on their massive tax overhaul will continue today. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the next vote in the tax debate will come at 11 a.m.
– Bloom said he is “cautiously optimistic” that one of the biggest concerns among higher education leaders won’t make it into the final bill: The House’s plan to tax as income tuition waivers for graduate students working as teaching and research assistants. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the Ways and Means chairman, said on the House floor earlier this month that he has “a keen interest in this issue” and that he is open to working “toward a
positive solution on tuition assistance in conference with the Senate.” Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said earlier this week they’re confident the provision won’t make it into the final bill.
– The chorus of voices speaking out against the grad student tax, meanwhile, is growing. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who has broad bipartisan respect, on Thursday warned of negative consequences it could bring. “Anything that would diminish the interest in that talent of the next generation in joining that workforce is something we should be very cautious and careful about,” Collins said during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. “I think we can all agree that given that science has driven our economy in this country by most estimates more than 50 percent of our growth since World War II, this is a very important issue for continued investment.”
– But it’s not just the grad student tax that has higher education leaders worried. Between them, the tax plans threaten to end a deduction on student loan interest and tax the richest private schools’ endowments, which those schools insist is a crucial source of scholarships for low-income students. The plans could also end deductions for state and local taxes, which could create problems for public colleges by putting a strain on state budgets. Colleges and universities also fear changes in the standard deduction will discourage charitable giving, which many of them rely upon heavily. Asked what his top priorities are moving forward, Bloom said: “That’s like asking me to make a Sophie’s choice. I can’t and I won’t. They hit different students in different ways. They’re all important.”
– One education leader who isn’t up in arms over the tax plan: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who said on Thursday she is “so encouraged” by the GOP’s efforts to do something about “our nation’s broken tax system.” Her enthusiasm was not shared by another Republican and former Education secretary, Margaret Spellings, who led the agency under George W. Bush and now is president of the University of North Carolina System. Spellings wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the tax plan would be “a self-inflicted setback in the national effort to build a more competitive, better educated citizenry.”