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Help the poor pay for college

By OTHER VIEWS / Washington Post
Published June 12, 2007


It's the rare and fortunate family that doesn't have to dig hard to come up with college tuition. Now the Senate Finance Committee wants to overhaul and strengthen tax measures designed to cushion the impact of this education sticker shock. That's a fine goal, but lawmakers' chief concern should be putting college within reach of those who couldn't otherwise afford it.

The current hodgepodge of tax credits and deductions gives a break to middle-income families but does almost nothing for the significant share of families with children who do not earn enough to owe income taxes. A married couple with one child in college and another under 17 has to earn $24, 300 to begin to be able to benefit from these tax breaks; their full value does not kick in until income reaches $42, 850, according to calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yes, students from low-income families are eligible for Pell grants (maximum $4, 310 for the next school year), but the grants do not come close to covering costs.

A measure introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would extend tax breaks to couples earning as much as $180, 000. This may appeal to voters that Schumer is trying to woo for Democrats. As a policy matter, however, Schumer has his priorities backward.

"A credit for the poor is very good - I'd be all for it, " Schumer told us, though he didn't bother to put one in his bill. But, he adds, "Middle-class people have a rough time paying for college, too. ... To say you shouldn't help the middle class until people who are poor are fully helped ... I don't buy." We don't buy that a family earning $180, 000 a year is in need of tender loving tax care from Schumer and his colleagues.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 02:13:37]

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