Last December, Bernie Sanders, a liberal senator from Vermont, led every single Senate Democrat to impose an endowment tax of around $1 million per year on Berea College.
This was a particularly outrageous act of partisan hypocrisy from a senator who claims to want free college for all. But when it came to this particular college — which already provides tuition-free education for students whose families make, on average, less than $30,000 per year — Democrats turned their backs for partisan reasons.
They used a procedural tactic to eliminate a provision I’d championed in the historic tax reform bill that would have protected schools like Berea from a tax that was never intended to affect them.
They didn’t have to employ this procedural move or hurt Berea and its students. Senate Democrats voted to deliberately make it more difficult for Berea and other schools like it to provide tuition-free education to students who, in many cases, couldn’t otherwise afford to go to college.
I believe strongly in Berea’s mission and was determined to fight for the school and its students.
The Bipartisan Budget Act that Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed on Friday included my measure to protect the college’s ability to continue offering scholarships to its more than 1,600 students, many from the Appalachian region. I am proud to have worked with my colleagues, especially Congressman Andy Barr, to fulfill my commitment to these students.
The school, founded as a Christian college in 1855 by abolitionists, has grown its endowment from generous donors who support the school’s mission. That’s why Berea offers every student a tuition-free education, giving many young people their best opportunity to earn a degree. Because of Berea’s model, which consists of scholarships paired with wages earned through various jobs on campus and in the community, the vast majority of students graduate debt free.
Every Democrat in the Senate voted to tax Berea like Harvard University, a school whose endowment is almost 30 times larger and doesn’t pursue a tuition-free mission. This tax was designed to encourage schools to spend more of their endowments on helping students afford their degrees. That’s a mission that Berea already personifies. Each year, it uses the returns on its endowment almost solely for scholarships for low-income students.
Even before the endowment tax was passed into law, President Lyle Roelofs told lawmakers that the college would be forced to offer scholarships to fewer students. I was determined to make sure that these students wouldn’t see the door of opportunity slammed in their faces.
Mitch McConnell, Republican senator from Kentucky, is the Senate Majority Leader.