President Biden’s plan for tuition-free community college promises to give states $3 for every $1 they put toward the goal, but some states would get a much less generous deal under the proposed cost-sharing formula.
Thirteen states would pocket less than $1 from the feds for every state taxpayer dollar spent on eliminating tuition at the two-year colleges, according to an analysis by the left-of-center think tank New America.
Vermont, the home state of one of the biggest champions of the free college idea, Sen. Bernard Sanders, would receive 23 cents for every $1 the state puts in.
The 12 other states that would lose out in the funding formula are Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
They get the less-attractive deal because, under Mr. Biden’s plan, the federal government would give states 75% of the national average for community college tuition. The tuition, however, varies widely depending on how much each state spends to keep tuition low.
Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the Education Committee, criticized the proposed funding formula that penalizing states with less tax revenue to pump into community colleges.
“Taxpayers should not subsidize a system that penalizes states with weaker economies and robust college assistance programs. States know best how to invest in their own education system,” she said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
States that have spent more to keep community college tuition low would get the full $3-to-$1 deal, according to the way lobbyists close to the bill drafting say it will be structured.
New America based its analysis on the funding formula reported by lobbyists with knowledge of the plan.
States including California would get the full federal payout, according to Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy at New America.
California charges a nation-low $1,310 in-state tuition to attend community colleges, far lower than the national average of $3,730. Receiving 75% of the national average would be more than enough for California to eliminate tuition without putting in any more money.
New Hampshire charges a nation-high of $7,560. So the federal dollars would cover only a small portion of the cost of making the colleges tuition-free. New Hampshire would have to pump in more of its own money than states like California to reach the goal, Mr. Carey wrote in an analysis published in The New York Times in April.
Mr. Carey said in an interview Tuesday that the situation has not changed.
A big problem with the plan, according to Mr. Carey, is that states do not have to participate. If the lack of federal funding or other political considerations prompt states to opt out, he warned it would leave a “patchwork” of tuition-free community college and not the nationwide benefit Mr. Biden promised.
Mr. Sanders, an avowed socialist who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, proposed giving larger federal subsidies to states with higher tuitions. But that would be unfair to states that spend more of their taxpayers’ money to keep tuitions low, Mr. Carey said, adding that he agrees with Mr. Biden’s approach.
“There’s the easy way to do free community college, and then there’s the fair way. The Biden administration is going with fair,” he said.
Morley Winograd, president of the Campaign for Free College Tuition, disagreed that the funding formula would deter states from participating in the program.
States with Democratic legislatures listed by Mr. Carey, such as Massachusetts, would likely eliminate community college tuition anyway, said Mr. Winograd, a former senior policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore.
Others have already made community colleges free or like Minnesota are moving toward the idea.
“At the end of the day the ‘patch work’ outcome Carey is warning about would turn into the Dakotas and Iowa, with maybe some initial resistance in the neighboring states of MN and CO, but impacting very few families,” Mr. Winograd said.
Other states like Texas or Florida with low community college tuition would get enough federal dollars to provide free tuition and have enough left over to address the other costs of going to community college like the cost of books.
Senate and House members from the 13 states that would lose out in the tuition-free deal did not respond to repeated inquiries by The Washington Times. The governors from those states also did not respond to requests for comment.