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Paying For Free Public Education

Bernie Sanders proposes the there should be universal free education at public universities.  This is a great idea, but far too many people argue that the U.S. cannot afford it.    Bernie Sanders proposes that free public education can be paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculators. This also works.

Here’s another way to pay for free public education: require every U.S. citizen who turns 18 to spend one year working for his country. “Ask not what yours country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” John F. Kennedy famously said.  We no longer have conscription for our military. But we should have a one year conscription for every citizen. What they will do is work for one year at a minimum wage (Bernie’s $15 per hour “living wage”) in a trainee position for any institution or corporation. For example, if they have a law degree and start as a trainee in a law firm, the law firm will pay its normal salary for the first year, but that money will go to the U.S. government, and the U.S. government will pay the trainee a minimum wage salary. If the trainee is a computer expert, the first year’s salary will likewise go to the government, and the government will pay the minimum wage. If the trainee decides to go into the military or not to go to college, then the money from the first job will go to the government and the worker will receive money at minimum wage.

What happens if the trainee was educated at a private institution and has incurred student loans? Then there are two possibilities. One is that the trainee’s first job is treated exactly the same as a trainee who went to a public university, described above. The second is that the first year’s salary (less a minimum wage salary) will go to pay the student loan. The trainee will still get the minimum wage salary to live on. If the trainee got a college education at a private institution through a scholarship, the money will go back to the scholarship fund, less the minimum wage salary for the student.

You might ask what should happen if the trainee got his education through funds from his family to pay a private college? Then the money should go back to his family, less a minimum wage salary for the trainee. This seems only fair, in that using private funds to pay for a private university education relieves the public university system of the cost of educating that trainee.

If the trainee salary goes back to the trainee’s family, or goes to pay student loans, it can certainly be argued that this is not working for the country, since the money does not benefit either private or public education funds. However, the only other solution is to pay the funds to the government, less the minimum wage salary that goes to the trainee.

A “pure” JFK type system would pay the money to the government (less the minimum wage salary) for all citizens, so that the government could use the funds for the public education system. Yet it is possible to argue that where funds other than government money is used to educate, those funds should be repaid, as private education relieves the government of the financial burden of the trainee’s education. Either solution helps pay for education and thus advances the idea that everyone should have the opportunity for a university education.

It can also be argued that trainee employment outside the military, the government itself or charitable organizations is not really working for one’s country, even if the money (above minimum salary) goes to the government. Yet it probably makes more sense to all work in places where the trainee will get real training for his or her future career, rather than to force the taking of a job in a place where such training is not available. Should, for example, a graduate in computer science be forced to work as a government (earning barely more than minimum wage) rather than as a computer specialist (earning more than twice minimum wage). The latter position provides solid future training earns the government far more money to pay into its education fund.

Bernie should propose a “Let’s Give Back To Our Country” program to help pay for universal free tuition!

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Michael T. Hertz, a retired attorney and law professor, has lived and worked in California, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Canada and France.  His writing subjects include France in the 1960’s, post-Civil War America, and present-day California and Canada.

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